The family of the Army reservist accused of fatally shooting more than a dozen people in Lewiston, Maine, alerted police and military officials that he was experiencing an “acute” mental health episode before the Wednesday night massacre, his sister-in-law said.
Robert Card, 40, a firearms instructor and longtime member of the Army Reserve, began to hear voices that were saying “horrible” things about him a couple of months ago when he was fitted for high-powered hearing aids, said Katie Card, who is married to his brother.
“He was picking up voices that he had never heard,” she told NBC News. “His mind was twisting them around. He was humiliated by the things that he thought were being said.”
Katie Card said the family did their best to reassure Robert Card that the comments were not real, including by verifying with some of the people he claimed had made the remarks.
But, she said, “it turned into a manic belief.”
“He was just very set in his belief that everyone was against him all of a sudden,” she said.
Robert Card, who was still at large Thursday, is accused of killing at least 18 people and injuring many others at a bar and a bowling alley, police said.
His sister-in-law said the family reached out to police and his Army Reserve base as they “got increasingly concerned" in the last couple of months.
“We just reached out to make sure everyone was on the same page, because he is someone who does gun training,” she said. “We were concerned about his mental state. That’s all.”
Her husband went “back and forth” with the Army, Katie Card said.
“They were following up on it, too, but he’s never been someone we thought would actually do anything,” she said.
The Army confirmed Robert Card’s status with the Reserve, but it did it not directly address the family's claim that loved ones had shared their concerns before the attack.
Two senior law enforcement officials said Card’s unit commanders sent him to receive psychiatric treatment this summer after they became concerned about threats he made to the base and his claims that he was hearing voices.
Card spent about two weeks undergoing inpatient psychiatric treatment and was released, the officials said. It is not clear what further action was taken.
A Defense Department official said Card’s unit requested that law enforcement be contacted in July after he began behaving erratically. New York State Police responded and took him to Keller Army Community Hospital at the U.S. Military Academy for medical evaluation.
In a statement, Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee said there are no records to indicate that Card had instructed or participated in any training while his unit supported West Point summer training in July.
The Army did not train him as a firearms instructor, nor did he serve in that capacity for the Army, Dubee said.
"We take matters such as this very seriously, and our primary concern is ensuring that all legal and appropriate actions are taken in accordance with our commitment to upholding the highest standards of conduct among our Soldiers and civilian personnel," he said.
Katie Card declined to discuss whether the family tried to restrict his access to firearms.
As officers headed to Maine to help with the manhunt, a note was found at Robert Card's home during a search with a warrant, four senior law enforcement officials said. Investigators are trying to determine the meaning of the note and how it could guide their investigation, the officials said.
The weapon believed to have been used in the attack was a sniper rifle with .308 caliber bullets, and it was purchased legally this year, officials said.
Robert Card enlisted in the Army Reserve in December 2002 and had no combat deployments, Dubee said. He is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment in Saco, Maine.
His sister-in-law said he had severe hearing loss most likely due to his being around constant gunfire.
She said the family has been continually messaging him to tell him that he is loved and that “he needs to do the right thing” but has not heard from him.
Katie Card said her brother-in-law is a “wonderful person” and a great father to his son, who just graduated from high school. She said that his behavior change was sudden and that he had not previously experienced mental health issues.
“We don’t know this person. This is not him,” she said. “We are so sorry for the pain he’s caused others."