Children return to school and trick-or-treat as Maine community starts to heal from mass shooting

Oct 31, 2023, 8:31 AM | Updated: 4:20 pm

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Children were back in school in Lewiston and on the streets dressed as dinosaurs and princesses for Halloween on Tuesday, after a chaotic week that saw the deadliest mass shooting in Maine’s history and a massive search for the suspect as people sheltered indoors.

Hundreds of students returned to Lewiston High School, petting therapy dogs and signing a large banner that read “Lewiston Strong” — the community’s new motto. Days earlier the campus had been transformed into a law enforcement command post, with three helicopters utilizing the athletic fields and 300 vehicles filling the parking lot.

“Today’s going to be hard,” Superintendent Jake Langlais said. “But I think there’s strength in gathering, in unity, in getting back together.”

Jayden Sands, a 15-year-old sophomore, said one of his football coaches lost four friends, one of his best friends lost a friend, and his mom’s friend was shot four times but survived.

He’s glad to be back at school but also worried about safety. He said everyone at school will “try to act like everything is fine, but it’s not.”

“A lot of people are shocked and scared,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here. You know, another day to live. Hopefully it gets better.”

On Wednesday night, a U.S. Army reservist and firearms instructor from Bowdoin fatally shot 18 people at a bowling alley and a bar. That sparked a massive search on land and water for 40-year-old Robert Card. Police and other authorities issued a shelter-in-place order for residents while trying to track down Card, who was found dead Friday.

Nearly a week later, on Tuesday afternoon, parents and children were searching for candy in their favorite costumes, many of them descending upon a long-running event put on by Peter Geiger, whose Lewiston-based business publishes the Farmers’ Almanac. Each year hundreds of kids visit to get king-size candy bars — as long as they know the “secret” password, which this Halloween was “Lewiston Strong.”

The trick-or-treat event dates back a quarter century. Not unlike years past, the streets were filled with an assortment of ghosts, monsters, Disney princesses and blow-up dinosaurs. Most parents said it looked like any other Halloween.

“I hurt as much as anyone else. For all of us there’s a loss,” Geiger said. “But I’m not going to let somebody undo a fun night for kids and families.”

Carli Ayres was trick-or-treating — cautiously — with her daughter Sage, age 6, and 1-month-old Braelyn in the neighboring community of Auburn.

“It’s still a little scary. Everyone is still on edge,” she said. “Everyone is definitely keeping two eyes on all their kids tonight, not letting anyone out of their sight.”

Michelle Russell, assistant principal at McMahon Elementary School, who was with her granddaughter, dressed as a witch, said it was import go trick-or-treating.

“We’re trying to get back to normal, if we can do that. We’re taking it slow,” she said.

Logan Phelps, of Greene, said Halloween was a distraction from a tough week that included some difficult discussions he and his wife, Rebecca, had with kids.

Luna, 5, and Juniper, 3, were both dressed as Wonder Woman, and their 20-month-old brother, Allister, went as a Triceratops.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep going, and you’ve got to keep living your life,” Phelps said. “It’s still sad. It’s going to be sad for a long time.”

Heather Hunter, a city administrator in Lewiston, said it was heartening to see steps toward normalcy but acknowledged the community has a long way to go.

“It’s similar to COVID. We’re adjusting to a new normal,” she said. “There’s no playbook for this.”

Back at Lewiston High School, senior Calista Karas said students still have a lot to process. Sheltering at home was frightening, she said. And on the day of the shootings, she couldn’t immediately get ahold of her mother, who was at work.

“I just couldn’t believe something like this would happen here — to us,” Karas said. “And I know that sounds like detached, kind of like, ‘Oh, we wouldn’t be affected.’ But you never think it’s going to happen to you when it happens.”

When she walked through the school doors on Tuesday, she felt her stomach drop a bit.

“Not because I felt unsafe,” she said. “But because I felt like, what’s going to happen from here on out?”

A lot people, including her, don’t feel like celebrating Halloween, she said.

“It was a weird experience to walk though school and see … life going on,” she said.

Langlais, the superintendent, said staff and students will take it one day at a time, understanding that some will need more support than others.

“Having helicopters with search lights and infrared sensors over your homes and apartments is pretty uncomfortable,” he said. “So we’re recognizing that everybody had some level of impact.”

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Children return to school and trick-or-treat as Maine community starts to heal from mass shooting