Two people with connections to The Salvation Army were among the 18 victims of the mass shooting last week in Lewiston, Maine. Now that the shooter has been found dead, the local corps is playing an integral role in helping the mourning community.
After a two-day lockdown as police searched for the shooter, The Salvation Army is active in a multiagency Family Assistance Center (FAC) that opened Saturday—just a day after the gunman was found. The FAC at the Lewiston Armory includes The Salvation Army, the Maine State Police, the Maine attorney general’s office, the Red Cross, and the FBI Victim Services Division.
“This will be one central space for victims and their support persons to gather so they don’t have to make multiple stops as they seek assistance,” read a post Saturday on the Salvation Army of Lewiston/Auburn Facebook page.
Major David Irwin, the co-commander of The Salvation Army’s Lewiston/Auburn Corps, told SACONNECTS he hopes grief counseling and emotional and spiritual help can be offered to grieving families. A longtime congregant of the Lewiston/Auburn Corps and an employee of the local thrift store both lost relatives in Wednesday’s shooting.
“It’s hitting home,” Irwin said. “It’s a little fresh for our people here. There’s going to be 18 funerals here next week. Lewiston and Auburn, it’s a small community. The numbers don’t intimate the close connection everyone has. It seems like everybody knows everybody. We look to be somewhat of a presence in all of their families moving forward to see where we can help and best assist people.”
Not long after Wednesday’s shooting, a “shelter in place” order went into effect in Lewiston, reminding many of the COVID-19 lockdowns, as police searched for the gunman, who killed 18 people and injured 13 others at Schemengees Bar and Grille and the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley.
Irwin said everyone from The Salvation Army was “itching to go into action” upon hearing about the tragedy, but that wasn’t possible with the killer still at large.
“Sitting here waiting for the ability to do something just takes a lot of patience,” Irwin said on Friday before the issue was resolved.
Irwin said the shutdown presented many challenges for The Salvation Army.
“There are people who don’t have food,” he said Friday. “The grocery stores are closed. I had to travel a half-hour to buy things for the canteen. I’ve made two trips. There is nothing open.
“When you have the client bases that we deal with who don’t have transportation, it’s an issue. Transportation is shut down. The buses aren’t running. Only a handful of gas stations are open. Throw all that into it and we’re trying to help the homeless stay fed and our client base needs food.”
One local agency called Irwin and said a grandfather desperately needed food for his grandchildren. The children’s father had been killed in the shooting.
“I think we’re going to see more of that,” Irwin said. “It’s not just the victims of the shootings, but what the whole lockdown has done to the community. It just hits you when you see shelves are bare and nobody can get anything. There’s a lot of layers to this and it’s not your typical tragedy or disaster. We’re all just trying to be as adaptable as possible and help where we can.”
Captain Darlene Clark, the territorial secretary for mission integration in the Adult Rehabilitation Center Command, grew up in nearby Bath and lived for many years in Lewiston. She still has family and friends in the area, including a sister and two sons, and had to watch the events unfold from THQ in West Nyack, N.Y.
“I’ve been reaching out to my family and friends to make sure they’re safe,” she said. “It’s a trauma and I hope that we will be able, through the corps and our ministry, to reach out to these people who have endured such a heinous crime.”
Clark said she also has been “doing a lot of praying” for all involved. Irwin said he covets the prayers as the community can now start to heal with The Salvation Army’s help.
“We appreciate the prayers from everybody and all the support we can get in helping these individuals and the families here in town,” Irwin said. “That’s our priority right now, just helping people find some form of normalcy in their life, find answers for themselves, and explaining why this sort of thing happens in the world.”