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'This isn't us' — close-knit Lewiston begins to recover from the deadly mass shooting

A "Lewiston Strong" sign hangs in the door of Forage Market in Lewiston, Maine.
Joe Hernandez
/
NPR
A "Lewiston Strong" sign hangs in the door of Forage Market in Lewiston, Maine.

LEWISTON, Maine — On Saturday afternoon, about three days after the deadly mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, things were finally starting to calm down, resident Terry Stibbards said.

"Today we don't hear as many sirens, by any means, but a lot more street traffic," Stibbards said. "It's good to hear the normal city noises."

The deadly attack Wednesday night at a bowling alley and a bar left 18 people dead and 13 injured, several of whom remain in critical condition.

Lewiston resident Terry Stibbards and his wife, Stacey, spend some time outside Saturday afternoon after the shelter-in-place orders were lifted.
Joe Hernandez / NPR
/
NPR
Lewiston resident Terry Stibbards and his wife, Stacey, spend some time outside Saturday afternoon after the shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

The suspect in the case was found dead late Friday, but only after a two-day manhunt put thousands of anxious residents under a shelter-in-place order as police sought the shooter, forcing businesses to close and mourners to grieve from the confines of their homes.

By the next morning, though, the streets of Lewiston were starting to get busy again.

Shops reopened. Kids played in the park across from Lewiston City Hall. People walked their dogs and carried to-go coffee.

"I think a lot of people are just seeking normal and [are] relieved, you know?" Stibbards said.

Last week was far from normal for Lewiston, a city of 40,000 people roughly 40 miles north of Portland.

The deadly massacre in Maine's second-largest city shattered the close-knit community that almost everybody here says feels like a small town.

People gather at a vigil in Lisbon Falls, Maine, on Saturday for the victims of the mass shooting.
Matt Rourke / AP
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AP
People gather at a vigil in Lisbon Falls, Maine, on Saturday for the victims of the mass shooting.

"Lewiston is a special place. This isn't us. Lewiston is a great place," Maine Gov. Janet Mills said during a Friday night press conference.

"It's a close-knit community of fine people, people with a long history, a history of hard work, of persistence, of faith, of opening its big heart to people everywhere," Mills said.

Among those walking on the commercial corridor of Lisbon Street Saturday afternoon was Gabe Hirst, who traveled from Westbrook with his family to hand out flowers to passersby.

"Be kind to people. I think that's one of our best ways to fight this," he said. "Say hi to that neighbor you've been meaning to say hi to. Call your mom. Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through. If you help someone, you help everyone."

Hirst said that as a Maine resident, he felt compelled to do something in the aftermath of the shooting, which has impacted people across the state.

"I personally didn't know any of the victims, but it's a very small state," Hirst said. "You know a guy who knows a guy. I knew people that knew them."

Sheri Withers, who owns the Lewiston gallery Downtown Handmade, had two friends in the shootings — one at the bowling alley and one at the bar. Both escaped with their lives.

But an acquaintance of hers, Tom Conrad, was killed. She said Conrad was a part of the craft brewing community in the area and had worked with her and her husband at a local brewery.

"He was very good with children at the bowling alley," she said. "And he was always a very chatty, talkative guy, so he had no problem just going up and striking a conversation with people."

Sheri Withers, owner of the Lewiston gallery Downtown Handmade, knew several people who were present at the shootings, one of whom was killed.
Joe Hernandez / NPR
/
NPR
Sheri Withers, owner of the Lewiston gallery Downtown Handmade, knew several people who were present at the shootings, one of whom was killed.

In the early afternoon Saturday, multiple people stopped by the gallery to speak to Withers, who said she decided to open Downtown Handmade to give community members a safe place to go after the shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

Since the shooting, Withers said the Lewiston community has rallied together and people have supported each other. Her children's teachers texted to make sure the family was OK, she said.

Withers hopes that persistent, caring, and hard-working spirit Lewiston is known for is what helps locals get through the days and weeks to come.

"It's always been a little rough here, but I love this community so much," she said. "That's kind of what has brought us all together before all this, and I think it's what's going to keep us together going forward to get through this and figure out what work needs to get done in our community to move forward."

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Joe Hernandez