Between the sounds of striking pins and returning bowling balls, patrons at Just-in-Time Recreation, a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, had a tough time recognizing gunshots over the din Wednesday night. A shooter took advantage of the confusion, killing 18 people there and at Schemengees Bar & Grill nearby. Seven people died at the bowling alley, eight more died at the bar, and three died after reaching the hospital. The shooter also injured an additional 13 people.
David St. Pierre, police chief of the 40,000-person city, commented, “This is truly a tragedy that goes beyond comprehension.”
One of the victims was Bob Violette, who was protecting children at Just-in-Time; he launched a practice league for children there, according to WMTW. “Bob had deep ties to the community and was the type of person who made everyone feel comfortable and cared for,” his daughter-in-law, Cassandra, told The Guardian. “He wouldn’t let you walk out the door without giving him a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. He was just there for everything,” she said.
One person, Chad Vincent, who was at the bowling alley told The New York Times there were between 30 and 50 regular bowlers there that night, in addition to 26 league bowlers. Vincent supposed that some of the victims were teenagers or children.
Tricia Asselin, a part-time Just-in-Time employee who was simply enjoying bowling, was shot running to the counter to dial 911 after the gunfire broke out.
“She ran to get her phone to call 911 to save the kids, and she was shot,” Asselin’s mother, Alicia Lachance, told Rolling Stone on Thursday. “It’s very emotional, but Tricia is the type of person who would have done anything for children and anybody. At her work at Walmart years ago, she gave mouth-to-mouth to a guy who was dead for 20 minutes because she was trying to revive him.”
At Schemengees, the shooter killed Joseph Walker, who managed the bar, according to WMTW. He was the son of Auburn city councilor Leroy Walker, Sr. “When you get anything that happens like this, you go empty,” the elder Walker told WMTW. One of the news anchors said that when he made that comment, he didn’t know yet that his son was dead. In another interview, Leroy Walker said, “My son grabbed some type of a butcher knife or something and went towards the killer to try and stop him from killing anyone else, and that’s when he shot my son, which were two shots through the stomach.” He said he wasn’t surprised to hear that his son would attempt such an act of valor.
Many of those killed at the bar were employees. The killer also fatally shot Steven Vozzella and Bill Brackett, who were playing cornhole with a group of deaf people at the bar. Another victim, Josha Seal, worked as an American Sign Language interpreter, according to Bangor Daily News.
“It was just a fun night playing cornhole… it’s the last thing you’re expecting, right?” Kathy Lebel, who co-owns the bar, said. “I still feel like this whole thing is a nightmare.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the shooter was still at large. Police identified Robert Card, 40, as a person of interest. They cautioned people that he should be considered armed and dangerous.
“None of this seems real, but unfortunately it is,” a rep for Just-in-Time said in a statement. “We are devastated for our community and our staff. We lost some amazing and whole hearted people from our bowling family and community last night. There are no words to fix this or make it better. We praying for everyone who has been affected by this horrific tragedy. We love you all and hold you close in our hearts.”
“My heart is crushed,” a message on Schemengees’ Facebook page reads. “I am at a loss for words. In a split second your world gets turned upside down for no good reason. We lost great people in this community. How can we make any sense of this. Sending out prayers to everyone.”
“This is the darkest day in Maine history in my lifetime,” Senator Susan Collins commented.
The shooting marked the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, making 2023 the second worst year for mass killings in the country’s history.