Local News

Hero in nursing home rampage recalls facing mass murderer

Posted July 21, 2012
Updated July 22, 2012

— As the nation reels from Friday's mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, a North Carolina state trooper knows what it's like to come face-to-face with a crazed gunman.

Then 25-year-old Carthage Police Cpl. Justin Garner shot and wounded a gunman at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center on March 29, 2009, single-handedly ending a rampage that killed eight people and wounded three.

"I think about it everyday. Not a day goes by that it doesn't come into my mind," he said Saturday.

Garner was the only police officer on duty in the Moore County town of 2,200 when he got calls about gunfire at the nursing home. He went in alone to confront the gunman.

"When I walked through the front door, I remember thinking, 'Is this actually happening? Is this happening to me? Am I witnessing what I am witnessing?'" he recalled. "The emotion was unreal."

Hero in nursing home rampage recalls facing mass murderer Hero in nursing home rampage recalls facing mass murderer

He said he followed the sound of gunfire and came face to face with the gunman, Robert Kenneth Stewart, as he rounded a corner.

"I gave him a command to drop his gun, and he lowered it down on me, and I fired," Garner said.

Stewart shot Garner in the leg, but the police officer disabled him with a shot to the chest. Garner recalled that the wounded Stewart said only one thing: "Kill me, kill me."

Stewart was later found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than 140 years in prison.

Garner recovered from his injuries and returned to work on the police beat in less than two months later. He joined the state Highway Patrol in 2011.

Garner said that watching coverage of the shooting spree in Colorado brings back even more memories of the tragedy that changed his life forever.

"The biggest thing is that it has made me more aware of surroundings and what I do," he said. "I never get relaxed, because the moment you do that is when something happens."


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