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Former FBI agent talks about potential difficulties in Lewiston manhunt

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For two days, people living in Lewiston, Maine, and the surrounding communities were on lockdown as police hunt for a man suspected of fatally shooting 18 people and wounding 13 others at a bowling alley and restaurant on Wednesday. Now, that lockdown has lifted, but the suspect is still at large.

CHELLIE PINGREE: There's nothing more frightening than the idea that someone is out there who's already done a mass killing and still possesses weapons.

CHANG: That is Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine. She says her state is in shock.

PINGREE: We're grieving, and we're not used to having anything like this happen in our state.

CHANG: Law enforcement is working to locate the shooter, but the rural location presents some obstacles.

PINGREE: We're a big state. We're the most forested state in the nation. It's an easy place to be lost in the woods, and it's a hard place to find somebody.

CHANG: Kenneth Gray is a senior lecturer in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. Before that, he was a special agent with the FBI for 24 years. He's here with us now to explain a bit more about what this kind of search for a suspect entails. Welcome.

KENNETH GRAY: Thank you - glad to be with you.

CHANG: Glad to have you. OK, so just to make clear, Kenneth, you're not at all involved in advising the investigators conducting this search, but we wanted to give listeners some sense of what might be happening on the ground. And we're hoping you can help us do that. What stands out to you so far about this particular manhunt right now?

GRAY: So a lot of progress has been made on this case in that, after the shooting occurred, there was no knowledge of exactly who it was that was responsible for this. Within 12 hours, he had been identified, his car was located and the hunt was on from there. The investigation actually has a couple of different moving parts. There is the manhunt itself. There is the investigation. There is evidence collection going on. There are interviews going on of victims and victim families and a lot of different parts all being used together to try to conduct this manhunt.

CHANG: Right, a lot of different parts. But as you mentioned, Robert Card was identified as a person of interest pretty quickly after these shootings. And I imagine a lot of people out there right now are probably wondering what is taking so long to apprehend him, capture him, locate him. What would you say are some of the greatest challenges facing this investigation?

GRAY: So when a person disappears like this into a very heavily wooded area, you have no idea if they are actually still in the woods there, if they have stolen a car and gotten out of the area or had pre-positioned a car and gotten out of the area or somehow else got taken out of the area. So the best thing you can do is to start where the last known position was - in this case, where his car was ditched there in Lisbon by the boat ramp - and start working out from there. And that is what law enforcement is doing. But they're also doing investigations to include interviewing family members, interviewing friends, interviewing coworkers to see if there is information that can be used to try to help locate him. Apparently, he left a note in his home for his son that sounds like a suicide note. And while the details have not been shared with the public, that might be indicative that maybe he went out into the woods to kill himself.

CHANG: Right, right. The possibility is out there that he is no longer alive. I'm curious. How much do you think his military training might have made this search harder?

GRAY: So a lot of - has been made in the media about the fact that he is a certified firearms instructor. But in reality, he's never been deployed to a combat area. His job in the National Guard was handling fuel. He was a civilian certified firearms instructor and was very proficient with weapons, and he's also an avid outdoorsman. So with all that in mind, those things would help him. But the military aspect itself, I don't think that is that useful to him as far as staying free from being found.

CHANG: Kenneth Gray, retired FBI special agent who now teaches in the criminal justice department at the University of New Haven. Thank you very much.

GRAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.