AUGUSTA — Nicole Herling thought her brother was going to take his own life.

She had tried for months to get him help. By checking in with his friends and co-workers. By leaving several voicemails with his Army Reserve commanders – messages that were never returned. By patiently trying to explain to him that the insulting voices he was hearing everywhere he went could not possibly be real, and that he was suffering from a mental illness.

None of it worked, and like her brother before her and their father afterward, Robert Card had cut his sister out of his life by September.

“If you loved me, you would help,” Card wrote in one of the final text messages he sent her. “You would find these people online saying these awful things about me.”

Herling said she was already grieving the inevitable loss of her brother well before Oct. 25. But never, she said Thursday during an emotionally charged public hearing, did she imagine he was capable of what he did in Lewiston.


In the more than six months since Card killed 18 people and injured 13 others in the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history, his family members have mostly stayed out of public view. Several of them broke that silence during hours of stunning testimony Thursday in front of the commission investigating the shooting.

Their lengthy statements exposed the depths of their devastation and the ferocity of their desire for change.

Tears began flowing within the first few words spoken by Card’s brother-in-law James Herling, whose testimony charted the many emotions that have overwhelmed the Cards since the shooting: shame, guilt, sadness, frustration, fury and, finally, resolve.

“We’ll always blame ourselves,” Card’s sister-in-law Katie Card said.

Dan Wathen, the chair of the commission investigating the Lewiston shootings, asks a question of Nicole and James Herling during a hearing in Augusta on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The four speakers, private by nature, said they have been reluctant to speak openly due to their own pain and their fear of salting the still-gaping wounds of the victims and their families. But after watching previous public hearings featuring victims, police and army officials, the Cards, who had already spoken with the commission privately in December, said they felt compelled to share their story in the hope that it might help the commission, and the public, identify and fix systemic issues they believe led to the massacre in Lewiston.

“We can point fingers at who’s at fault. We all could have done better, from the (Sagadahoc County) Sheriff’s Office, to the Army, to the family,” James Herling said. “But in reality, just like a weed in a garden, we haven’t really taken care of the weed if we just rip off what we see from the top. We need to get down deep into the root.”


The family members who testified, which included Card’s ex-wife Cara Lamb, repeatedly said their goal is not to lay blame at the feet of any one individual. But they sometimes struggled to hide their frustration with specific Army and police officials who they say have tried to avoid taking responsibility for their role in allowing Card to slip through the cracks.


Police reports released just days after the shooting shined an early light on how the Cards had tried several times to warn people about Robert Card’s descent into madness. But Thursday’s testimony at some points contradicted the official accounts of how the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office and the Army handled warnings about Card.

Unlike Card’s son Colby, who according to police reports first noticed his father becoming more paranoid and aggressive around January 2023, Nicole Herling said she didn’t realize anything was wrong with her brother until May, when Colby and his mother reached out to a school resource officer for help.

James Herling, seated next to his wife Nicole, Robert Card’s sister, becomes emotional while testifying Thursday before the commission investigating the Lewiston shootings. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When Herling and her brother Ryan Card went to check on their brother at his Bowdoin home that day, she said he was still their brother, not the person he became later. But he had answered the door with a handgun, and remained adamant that he was not “crazy” and that people were really calling him a pedophile behind his back.

Herling told the commission that an Army investigator has confirmed that some co-workers at Maine Recycling Corp. did in fact accuse Card at one point of being a pedophile, mistaking him for another Robert Card on the state’s sex offender registry. It’s unclear whether this is what initially sparked Card’s paranoid delusions. She said she tried to look at the registry website herself to see if there was any truth to what her brother was saying, but she struggled with the search function and didn’t find the listing until after the shooting.


After Herling learned in June that Card had confronted a pair of women he believed were insulting him at the bowling alley, she began working “tirelessly” to learn more about what was happening to him and to get him help, her husband, James Herling, told the commission. But finding out where to turn proved challenging.

She called a veterans crisis line and was told not to tell Card’s commanders that he was being accused of being a pedophile or gay because that could lead people in the unit to bully him, Nicole Herling said. After finally finding the number to Card’s Army Reserve base in Saco, she called and left messages with all five extensions, but never received a call back.

She looked into getting her brother committed to a hospital so he could be evaluated, but was told that there wasn’t enough evidence that he posed a threat to himself or others.

In July, when Card was involuntarily committed at Four Winds psychiatric hospital in New York after attempting to punch another soldier, his family was told that he would remain there for 30 days, Herling said. They were all surprised when he was released after two weeks.

According to Herling, the hospital’s main contact with the family was their mother, who worked with Card, his psychiatrist and a counselor to come up with a treatment plan: Card would come home to Maine, and his mother would check up on him.

But their mother was in no condition to do this, Herling said. Her own health issues left her immobile and prone to memory issues that made it difficult to remember the details of her conversation with the hospital even minutes after getting off the phone.


And as far as Herling knows, no one said anything to the family about securing Card’s guns at that time, which was supposedly a key condition of his release from the hospital.

Within two months, Card was so aggressive and paranoid that he was unrecognizable to those closest to him. The family said they never promised Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Aaron Skolfield that they would be able to succeed in securing Card’s guns, contradicting the department’s report.

“Clearly we were having a hard time,” James Herling said. “I believe that Skolfield took this as a way to just be able to leave it with us.”

Katie Card, the wife of Ryan Card, Robert Card’s brother, testifies Thursday at the commission investigating the Lewiston shootings in Augusta. She is comforted by her sister-in-law Nicole Herling. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Katie Card, at first hesitant to answer the question, later told Dr. Debra Baeder that Skolfield had also called her and her husband Ryan to ask if the guns had been removed.

“I said, ‘They have not. We’ve tried very hard to make contact with Rob; my husband will want to speak with you,’ ” she said.



It was apparent throughout Thursday’s hearing that family members are haunted by their inability to pull their loved one out of his declining state before it was too late.

James Herling said he and Nicole keep the names of each of the shooting victims on a wall on their home “as a constant reminder.” Katie Card, who had not initially planned to testify Thursday but who said she felt compelled to speak on behalf of herself and her husband, Ryan, said she will always regret being talked out of checking on Card one day last year after learning he answered the door with a gun.

“I had an opportunity that I didn’t take. I wasn’t brave enough, and I’m very, very sorry for the families that have endured so much grief,” she said through tears. “I’ll pray for you all every night for the rest of my life.”

For the most part, the family was slow to cast blame on other individuals, preferring to cite the larger groups and systems that failed to help Card before the shooting or that exacerbated problems afterward.

James Herling criticized the media for “sowing chaos,” disrupting law enforcement efforts and violating the family’s privacy during the 48-hour manhunt for Card after the shooting. He blamed the FBI for damaging property at his in-laws’ home during the search, and called out police for failing to thoroughly search Maine Recycling Corp., even though Ryan Card repeatedly told them it was likely where they would find his brother.

“He had a gut feeling, and he knew where his brother was,” Herling said. “If they had listened more clearly, this would have ended the search sooner, preventing the fear and chaos.”


Cara Lamb, Robert Card’s ex-wife, testifies Thursday at the commission investigating the Lewiston shootings in Augusta. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lamb, Card’s ex-wife, blasted the police for failing to share information between agencies, leading authorities to discount warnings about Card even as they accumulated in number. The Army, too, showed a troubling inability to share information effectively, she said – a problem that continues to frustrate her as Army recruiters repeatedly call her son and ask him why he no longer seems interested in enlisting.

In particular, she took aim at Skolfield, who is currently running for Sagadahoc County Sheriff.

“If I still lived in MSAD 75 … I would be telling everyone and their grandfather not to vote for Sgt. Skolfield,” she said. “He’s bothered to say some ugly things in defending himself and his actions, and that’s not the person you want to go to for help next time.”

But Lamb, like the rest of the speakers, said she was mostly focused on improving the systems that failed her ex-husband so that the next Robert Card gets the help he needs before he snaps. That hope, she said, was what drove the family to speak publicly, even though the commission was happy to let them share their thoughts behind closed doors.

One area the family is especially passionate about is veteran mental health. Nicole Herling, one of several family members who arrived to the hearing wearing a T-shirt reading “They fought for us, now we fight for them,” called on the Department of Defense to stop exposing soldiers to the explosions that experts say may have damaged Card’s brain. While most people with traumatic brain injury won’t ever hurt others, she said they contribute to a staggering number of veteran suicides – more than 17 per day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I won’t relent until these changes happen,” she said. “Hear my battle cry today, and please support me in this journey.”

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration with FRONTLINE (PBS) and Maine Public that includes an upcoming documentary. It is supported through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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