Maine gunman found deep brain damage, possibly from blast

A specialized lab examining the brain of the gunman who carried out one of Maine's deadliest mass shootings has found deep brain damage similar to that seen in veterans exposed to repeated blasts from weapons use.

The lab's findings were included in an autopsy report compiled by the Maine Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and released by the gunman's family.

The gunman, Robert Gard, was a grenade instructor in the Army Reserve. In 2023, eight years after suffering thousands of skull blasts on a training range, he began hearing voices and was haunted by paranoid seizures, his family said. In the months leading up to the October rampage in Lewiston, he killed 18 people and then killed himself.

His brain was sent to Boston University's CTE Center, a lab known for pioneering work documenting chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in athletes.

According to the lab report, prepared Feb. 26 and updated Wednesday, the white matter that makes up the brain's deep wiring suffered “moderately severe” damage, and in some areas was completely absent. The delicate tissue envelopes that isolate each biological circuit lay in “random clumps,” and Mr. Scarring and swelling across Card's brain indicate repeated trauma.

It's not CTE, the report said. A characteristic pattern of damage seen previously is military personnel exposed to repeated ordnance blasts during their service.

“Although it is unclear whether these pathological findings are responsible for Mr. Card's behavioral changes in the last 10 months of life, based on our previous studies, brain injury played a role in his symptoms,” the report concluded.

The findings have serious implications for the military, because Mr. Gard had never seen combat, and had never been exposed to enemy fire or the explosion of roadside bombs. The bomb exploded in his brain only through training that the military said was safe.

“We know very little about the risks of blast exposure,” said Dr. Ann McGee, who led the lab and signed the report. “I think these results should be a warning. We need to investigate further.”

Congress has pushed the military in recent years to investigate whether blasts caused by repeated heavy weapons fire cause brain damage, but the military has moved at a halting pace, yielding few changes in the field.

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Soldiers like Mr Guard are exposed to numerous blasts from grenades, mortars, artillery and rocket launchers in training every day. Current Pentagon guidelines say absorbing thousands of grenades, as Mr. Card did in his career, poses no risk to troops' brains.

In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had made recommendations in recent months to reduce exposure to explosives in combat units. “The Army is committed to understanding, mitigating, accurately diagnosing, and promptly treating blast overpressure and its effects in all its forms,” ​​the statement said. “Prolonged blast exposures can be fatal, even if encountered on a training range but not on the battlefield, and there is still much to learn.”

For most of his life, Robert Card was a quiet, friendly, confident man with no history of causing trouble, his family said. He grew up on his family's dairy farm in Bowdoin, Maine, and drove a delivery truck for work. He loved to fish local ponds with his son and often took his nieces and nephews.

“He was always there to do chores on the farm, be there for the kids and Sunday dinner,” his sister Nicole Herling said in an interview.

Mr. Card joined the Army Reserve in 2002 and spent his first 12 years in the service as a petroleum distribution specialist. In 2014, he transferred to the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, a training unit based in Saco, Maine.

Each summer, his platoon of the 3rd Battalion held a two-week field course for cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, teaching them to use rifles, machine guns and shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapons. Soldiers said that during training, Mr. Card spent most of his time throwing grenades. Each of the 1,200 cadets had to throw at least one grenade; Most threw two. Over the years, Mr. Card could have easily exposed more than 10,000 blasts, players said.

It is with the Department of Defense 14 LIST OF WEAPONS In normal use, unleash blasts powerful enough to be fatal to the troops using them. Grenades are not listed. Soldiers in Mr. Gard's regiment said they had received no explanation of the dangers of repeated exposure.

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In 2022, Mr. Cord began to lose his hearing. His family noticed that he was growing dull and short-tempered. In the spring of 2023, he begins to believe that people at the local market and the bar where he likes to play cornhole are talking about him behind his back and calling him a pedophile. He also started losing weight rapidly.

His brothers and sisters tried to intervene several times, encouraging him to see a doctor. At one point, his sister called a veterans crisis line. But Mr Card has pushed his relatives away and accused them of plotting against him.

In July, the army placed Mr Gard in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks after reports that he heard voices and made threats against fellow soldiers. Doctors at the hospital prescribed him lithium, his sister said, but he was not evaluated for a traumatic brain injury. After leaving the hospital, he stopped taking the medicine.

In the months that followed, Mr. One day, when his mother came home, she found him crying on her front porch because of the maze of people talking about him.

He lost his job driving a recycling truck. Police came to his parents' home in September, warning that he was making threats against soldiers in his army unit. Mr. Card's brother and father both tried to take his guns, but he became angry and told him to leave his property.

A few weeks later, when local news reported that a man had opened fire at a bar and bowling alley in Lewiston, Mr. Card's siblings saw the video footage and recognized their brother.

As the state of Maine argued about the loss of life and missing warning signs, Mr. Card's brain was sent to Boston, where researchers examined thin cross-sections of the tissue.

“The damage is massive,” said Dr. Lee Goldstein, a Boston University neurology professor who examined Mr. Card's brain tissue with an electron microscope.

The long, thin, cable-like cell parts called axons that send messages deep into the brain are damaged, Dr. Goldstein said in an interview. “I see cables that have lost their protective covering, cables that are missing, cables that are inflamed and diseased, cables that are filled with bags of cellular debris,” he said. “These cables control how one part of the brain communicates with another. If they're damaged, you can't function properly.

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The findings aren't the first signs that the military has gotten wind of the risk of repeated blasts for grenade trainers.

In 2015 and 2017, Army research teams reported that instructors in Georgia and South Carolina reported headaches, fatigue, memory problems and confusion. The military collected measurements of grenade explosions, but did not take any broad measures to control explosive exposure.

Similar concerns were raised at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in 2020. A small study funded by the military used PET scans to examine the brains of new grenade and explosives instructors. The researchers found that the instructors' brains were healthy before working around the blasts. But in follow-up scans five months later, their brains were there Extraordinarily protein rich Beta amyloid is associated with Alzheimer's disease.

“You shouldn't see amyloid in a young brain. No. Zero,” said University of Missouri neurologist Dr. Carlos Leiva-Salinas, who conducted the study. “We were surprised, very surprised.”

The analysis of his brain, which the family learned Friday, changed the way the family saw the shooting and their brother, Mr. Cardin's sister said.

“It allowed me to forgive him,” she said. “I know a lot of people are in a lot of pain,” he added. “Maybe we can use what happened to help others.”

In a statement Wednesday, the family wrote: “We want to say how deeply sorry and heartbroken we are to all the victims, the survivors and their loved ones, and all those affected and traumatized in Maine and beyond. .”

“Although we can't go back, we are publishing the findings of Robert's brain study with the aim of supporting ongoing efforts to learn from this tragedy, to ensure it will never happen again.”

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