Nov. 19—It was too surreal for Destiny Johnson to comprehend, that long moment just before the world exploded into shouts and bullets.
She saw the man as soon as he walked into the bar with a long, black gun. She watched him fire at the ceiling, lower his barrel to make an adjustment, then blast skyward again. Only after the third shot, when he finally aimed the weapon toward the bar, did she realize the danger they were all in.
At least that's how Johnson remembers it.
"She said it was three shots, and I thought it was six," Jennifer Zanca recalled. "It was definitely repetitive, nonstop."
Sue Dostie rattled off the sound of six shots in agreement: "Pop, pop, pop. Pop, pop, pop."
In the weeks since Robert Card killed 18 people at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille, the dozens of survivors who escaped with their lives have recounted their stories again and again. To police, to their partners, to the friends and family members who could not possibly understand what they went through.
"The first thing they do is hug me, and they won't let go of me," Joyce Michaud said. "And then they just kind of look at you because they have no idea what to say. They have no idea what to do. You're a living funeral or something."
Zanca, who was shot through the shoulder as she fled, was one of the 13 survivors injured during Card's murderous rampage. Her friends bear different scars. Like everyone who was at the bowling alley or bar that night, they each carry a unique piece of what happened.
Across the river in Auburn, Zanca's home is filled with dozens of cards and bouquets from well-wishers. The four golfing buddies gathered here last week to share their stories and to again compare notes.
Their usual group dynamics, some honed over decades, were on display: Zanca, the organizer, bringing the crew together and subtly nudging the conversation on track; her neighbor Michaud, inserting jokes and expletives into everyone's accounts of the terror; Dostie, Zanca's sister-in-law, quietly waiting for her turn to talk; Johnson, the group's newest and youngest member, arriving late with her 10-year-old daughter Layle, who could have joined the women at the bar that night if things had gone just a little differently.
They could have been talking about skiing or Christmas decorations or golf. Instead, they were talking about survival.
"I could have died. I should have died," Michaud said. "How didn't I die?"
They almost didn't go to Schemengees that night.
Zanca, Dostie and Michaud usually grabbed dinner at the Firehouse Grill in Auburn or hung around the clubhouse of the Fox Ridge Golf Club after finishing nine holes as part of their Wednesday night league.
The three women go way back — so far back they struggle to remember exactly how and when they first met. Over the years, they'd spent countless days and nights out together in various pairings or as a trio. But even though Zanca was feeling tired on Oct. 25, she decided she couldn't turn in early — not on the night when the group's newest member was finally coming out with them.
Johnson had only met the other women a few months earlier after her significant other, Jon Breton, got her hooked on golf. She liked playing in the league, an intimate group of about half a dozen women playing just for fun.
It was difficult enough to make the group's 3 p.m. tee time from her home in Windham. Actually joining the women for dinner meant leaving Breton home to care for their daughter and took some planning.
The 25th was finally the night. Dostie suggested they go to Schemengees — it was closer to the highway, she said, so it would be easier for Johnson to get home. That decision, like so many other choices and coincidences that unknowingly led them into Card's sights, continues to haunt Dostie.
They could have been anywhere that night; why did they have to be there?
But of course, the women had no reason to think they would run into anything other than pizza and potato puffs. They finished their nine holes, had a drink at the clubhouse and set out for Lewiston.
'HIT THE FLOOR'
The bar was crowded with cornhole players, but there were hardly any diners at the other end of the long room. As far as the women could tell, it was just them and a man eating alone at the bar. They were well on their way to finishing their second appetizer and were chitchatting about their weekend plans when Card walked in the room.
They all realized what was about to happen at different moments.
The women did not know that he already had fatally shot 10 people at the bowling alley across town minutes earlier and was preparing to target the bar he thought was broadcasting messages that he was a pedophile.
Michaud had her back to him. She mistook the clanging of bullets for someone banging on the walls. When the racket didn't stop, she turned around in annoyance to see what was going on.
She let out a cry: "Gun! Hit the floor!"
At that moment, their experiences began to diverge.
As Card began bombarding the cornhole players with bullets, Zanca, Michaud and Johnson leapt out of their seats and managed to slip out into a nearby hallway between bursts of gunfire.
They don't remember exactly how they made it. Johnson thinks she army crawled around the wall behind the table. Michaud remembers her crouched, walking "like a little Minion."
Dostie, too pinned in her corner seat by the high table and chairs to run, stayed behind. She dove onto the floor and pulled her chair on top of her, hoping it would offer some tiny measure of protection. She watched, trying not to move or make a sound, as bodies dropped around her.
She never saw the shooter's face. She only remembers a pair of white sneakers stepping over a fallen cornhole player.
"I felt like I was a sitting duck. He could walk by and just shoot me," she said. "I just shut my eyes and I started praying."
Michaud had made it to the hallway with Zanca and Johnson but feared that the shooter would easily be able to pick her off. She split off from the pack and, like Dostie, sunk to the ground, laid still as if to play dead and hoped Card would stay away. Only when someone flipped the breaker and turned off the lights — a move the women think saved several lives — did she follow others into a utility closet.
Inside, she found four people hunched low, "like little mice sitting in the corner." They were silent except for one man begging a 911 dispatcher on the phone to send help.
Johnson and Zanca kept crawling forward. With Johnson leading the way, they first tried one room that led nowhere, then turned into the kitchen. With the lights off, someone — they're not sure who — found a door to the outside, and they emerged into the night.
Johnson charged for her truck, fearing the shooter would follow them outside. She remembers parking at the curb behind a white car — she wonders now if it was Card's Subaru. When she got to her truck, the car was gone.
She was dialing 911 as she peeled out, not knowing where she was going except that it had to be far away from the bar.
"I didn't look back," she said. "I hit my start button and went straight until I saw the highway signs."
It was only when she made it home to Windham, some 30 miles away, that she realized she was still clenching her napkin from Schemengees.
Zanca was too afraid of running into Card to follow Johnson to the truck. She was in no position to risk another run-in with the shooter; sometime during their escape, maybe when they rounded the corner into the hallway, a bullet had torn through her left shoulder.
"It felt like an explosion," she remembered. "I thought I was dying. I thought I was bleeding out."
She took cover behind a nearby dumpster. As a nurse, she knew that she couldn't stay there long without medical attention. She tried to apply pressure to her wound, but blood kept spurting through her hand.
She saw a man standing across the street and ran toward him. David Jellison later told Zanca that he'd seen Card emerge from the building, get into his car and drive away — the whole time firing away with a handgun.
When Zanca made it to him, Jellison didn't hesitate. He loaded her in his car and put the accelerator to the floor. He hit 100 mph on the way to Central Maine Medical Center, laying on the horn at intersections to warn other cars that he had no time to stop for red lights.
'GET ME THE HELL OUT'
Police had arrived at the bar by 7:13 p.m., five minutes after the first 911 call. The nightmare had only lasted a few minutes, but it felt much longer.
Officers started escorting survivors outside. It was safe to come out, they told Michaud and the others who had taken cover in the closet.
But even when the lights came on, Dostie remained frozen on the floor under the table. She watched quietly, the chair still on top of her, as an officer checked on the body she had seen Card step over. That image of the shooter — his white sneakers, the blood — was already etched in her mind.
Dostie finally got up to leave only after Ryan Dalessandro, whom she mistook for an "angel," came over and asked if she was OK. On her way out, she saw more bodies — the man who had been sitting near them at the bar and someone laying near the bathrooms. She remembers beginning to shake and cry as the adrenaline began to recede, and she let out out a plea: "Get me the hell out of here."
In all, Card killed eight people at the bar: Ronald Morin, Peyton Brewer-Ross, Joshua Seal, Bryan MacFarlane, Joseph Lawrence Walker, Arthur Strout, Maxx Hathaway and Stephen Vozzella.
Dostie and Michaud reunited outside Schemengees, where hordes of police officers had started to gather. The scene was disorganized and scary. They watched as a wave of officers wielding riot shields charged toward the river behind the restaurant.
One moment the women were hugging other survivors, the next they were being told to get in their cars and take cover — a warning that sent them back into a panic before everyone realized it was a false alarm.
Things were just as strange at the Lewiston Armory, where survivors went to be interviewed by police.
By then, Dostie and Michaud had gotten word that Johnson was safe and Zanca was at the hospital but stable. But others around them were still desperately searching for answers.
They saw one man outside screaming at police to tell him where he could find his brother. It took some time before police were able to figure out that he had been wounded and was at the hospital — Dostie and Michaud still don't know whether he made it.
Another man was soaking wet. He had been smoking near a thicket of woods behind the bar when Card came outside and started firing, he told them. He dove into the creek, thinking it might carry him to safety. But it was far too shallow — he bumped his head and lost his glasses and was now shivering. Dostie and Michaud found an EMT to help the man.
They were surprised by how strict authorities were being.
" 'Don't call your friends. Don't call your family. Don't let anyone know that you're here,' " Michaud remembers police telling them. "I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' They had cops all the way around the place. It's like, 'What do you think? The guy's going to come here and start shooting us again?' "
They weren't allowed to communicate with survivors from the bowling alley who were being held at the other end of the building.
Finally, after more than two hours, they were allowed to leave. Dostie could not get her car from Schemengees, so Michaud drove her to Shaw's to meet her husband, Rick. The two women waited for him under the glow of the parking lot lights and the little comfort they provided.
As soon as nurses at the hospital checked Zanca's vitals, she realized she wasn't dying. Miraculously, the bullet hadn't pierced a major artery. It was unclear whether Zanca would ever swing a driver again, but she would survive. Before she went into surgery around midnight, she called home from a borrowed hospital phone (she'd left her cell at the bar) to let her family know that she was OK.
"David, David, I'm in the hospital," she remembers telling her partner when he picked up her call. "I've been shot."
Confused, he responded: "Who is this?"
Like so many Mainers just learning of the two shootings, he could not comprehend what had unfolded or what was to come over the next 48 hours.
Zanca made it out of surgery and went to bed, feeling safe in the locked-down hospital. But her three friends lay awake, unable to stop thinking about the man who had tried to kill them — the man who was apparently still on the loose.
None of three women who made it home Wednesday night did much of anything the next day besides lock their doors and stay inside.
After word got out that Michaud had been in the bar, she got a flood of messages from worried friends and family members.
"I got call after call, text after text," she said. "I literally laid in bed and talked to everybody for four or five hours."
Michaud, brash and funny, was always the talker in the group. But as the morning went on, she felt the conversations having a strange effect on her: a 10-minute call would leave her physically exhausted, her heart pounding as if she was once again racing through the dark to the closet in Schemengees.
Dostie, the most private member of the group, found herself overwhelmed by people checking in to make sure she was OK.
She saw herself as the person who takes care of others — the matriarch who kept holidays running smoothly, the comforter who nursed her parents during the last years of their lives so that others could work the family farm.
When the calls came in, she found herself shaking and sobbing again. Mostly, she stopped answering the phone.
She still has a list of people who reached out to her after the shooting that she needs to respond to. She's working through the names slowly, whenever she feels up to the task.
Like Michaud, who barricaded herself at home with a loaded gun ready in every room, Johnson was afraid that Card would find her. Between locked doors and drawn curtains, she spent the day glued to her television hoping for updates.
Some of what was being reported didn't make sense to her — the widely shared photo of Card taking aim in the bowling alley pictured a different gun than the one she saw in the bar, she was sure. And she kept thinking about the possible third shooting at a Walmart distribution center. (Police have confirmed there was no shooting there.) Could there be a second shooter or an accomplice somewhere?
While Johnson clung to the news like a lifeline, Zanca was giving the first of several interviews to the media.
From her hospital bed, she described her escape and how she used her hand like a tourniquet to try to stanch the bleeding from her shoulder. She was initially wary of appearing on television, her hair mussy, no makeup, arm in a sling. But with millions of people from around the world trying to understand what happened, she thought it was important to share her story without trying to put a glossy coat on it.
"This is real," Zanca said. "This is what it looks like when you get shot."
Yet while she waited to be discharged from the hospital, she was not particularly interested in tracking the hunt for Card.
She was home two nights later when police announced they had found his body. The news didn't bring Zanca the same measure of relief the others felt. She had already assumed she was safe from Card — and she felt his death did little to solve the larger threat he represented.
"Our mental health system is broken, and I think that our laws to carry a gun are really loose," she said. "There's other people that are mentally ill, and they can get guns. There's another one out there somewhere."
'EVERYBODY KNEW IT'
The lives of the four women have slowly inched toward normalcy. They've begun to work again, and they've started to venture out into the world — weddings, restaurants, even trips to Florida. Sometimes, some of them say, they make it a couple of days without reliving the shooting before the sound of a hunting rifle or blasting at a nearby sand pit throws them back to Schemengees.
None of them knows when they'll be able to go into a restaurant and not immediately scan for emergency exits and unlocked windows.
It's hardest at night, when the women close their eyes and see Card and his gun and replay everything they know about how that night came to be.
They feel burdened by guilt — should Johnson have gone back to help her friends after making it out of the bar? Why hadn't Dostie picked a different restaurant?
They vibrate with anger — why were the many warnings about Card unheeded, and why doesn't Maine have a red flag law that could have helped police disarm him?
"They knew he was bad. His family members knew it," Michaud said. "People that grew up with him knew it. Everybody knew it. Somebody should be accountable for that."
Sleeping is especially difficult for Dostie. She'd long ago learned to manage with her husband's snoring, but since the shootings, his grunts and groans have taken on new meaning. Lying next to him in the dark, she's transported back to the floor of the darkened bar, when all she could do was try to be still and listen to the bodies around her fight to draw one more breath.
The widespread support from friends, family and mere acquaintances has touched the group, but they've also found it difficult to fully communicate their experience with people who were lucky enough not to share it.
So the survivors have leaned on each other. Instead of golf last Wednesday, they gathered for dinner at Dostie's home. Wearing four matching Lewiston Strong T-shirts, they swapped memories and tidbits they'd picked up from others who were there.
The pieces don't always fit together neatly, but sorting through what happened that night has been helpful — a way to make some sense of a senseless crime, Johnson said. Even though her relationships with the others don't go back decades, she said she feels bonded to them now. Already, she's thinking about how the group can meet through the winter when they can't play golf and into a future when Zanca may never swing a club again.
Zanca is hopeful that she'll soon be physically able to at least participate in her annual Christmas wreath-making tradition — just as long as somebody else cuts down the tree.
The hole in her arm remains the lone physical representation of the trauma the group endured. That injury has brought her more attention than the rest of her friends — meetings with President Biden and Sen. Susan Collins, interview requests, countless cards, and calls and bouquets from well-wishers.
People sometimes almost seem to forget, she says, that besides the 18 dead and 13 wounded, Card left behind dozens more victims bearing emotional damage that won't soon heal.
Zanca remembers. She knows that the deepest wounds are the ones she shares with her friends and everyone who came across the shooter that night, even the ones who never took a bullet.
"It's never going to be the same," she said. "You just adapt and you learn to live with it. But you never forget."