DA: Nursing home shooting was not random
Posted March 30, 2009
Updated March 31, 2009
CARTHAGE, N.C. — State and local investigators offered the public little insight Monday into why a gunman went on a rampage that killed seven patients and a nurse at a Moore County nursing home on Sunday morning.
"Motive and intent are things rarely known by direct evidence," Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "When can one look into the heart and mind of another person and truly know what they think? The information on motive is incomplete at this time."
Police digging for motive
Concerned about the integrity of the case, authorities declined to release specific details or answer any questions about the Sunday-morning shooting at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center in Carthage but said the act was not random.
"It would be imprudent to release details of the investigation, at this time," Krueger said. "We can share this: This was not a random act of violence. There is only one suspect and he is in custody."
Police, however, did say the massacre could have been worse if not for the actions of Officer Justin Garner, 25, who fired his weapon once, wounding Robert Kenneth Stewart in the chest and ending the shooting spree.
Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said Monday morning that Garner's actions were "absolutely nothing more than heroic."
"Whether he realizes it now, he will hopefully realize someday how many lives he has saved," McKenzie said. "A lot more lives would have been lost, I honestly feel, had he not done what he did."
Police say Stewart, of 2530 Glendon Carthage Road, walked into Pinelake around 10 a.m. Sunday and shot 11 people, including Garner.
Garner, a past officer-of-the-year winner and a field training officer who has been on the Carthage police force for more than four years, is recovering at home from gunshot wounds to his left foot and calf.
Stewart was brought down in a back hallway about 15 minutes later, McKenzie said, leading him to believe initially that Garner, the only officer at the scene, heard gunshots and searched the facility.
"It would be difficult for me to believe anything else," McKenzie said. "He had to go all the way through the facility to encounter the individual."
Had Garner, the only officer on duty in the small town Sunday morning, waited for backup, more lives could have been lost, the chief said.
McKenzie did say that investigators recovered multiple weapons, although he declined to say how many, what types, or where they were found.
In a dozen 911 calls and nearly two dozen dispatch recordings released Monday afternoon, one caller described one weapon as a long shot gun.
"He's inside the building … He just kept shooting in the rooms," another caller said. "He's gonna shoot. He's got a shot gun."
"We just ran. We're residents," a third caller said. "Please get here."
Detectives are looking into whether Stewart might have picked the nursing home as his target because his estranged wife, Wanda Luck, worked there as a certified nursing assistant.
"He had one wife he may have been separated from, but to the details as to whether she was there, of if that was part of the motive has yet to be determined," McKenzie said.
A former neighbor said Stewart called him a few days ago trying to reach his ex-wife.
"He sounded like he might have been a little down, but I didn't think anything about it at the time,” the neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said.
Stewart, charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony assault on an officer, made his first court appearance Monday morning in Moore County before being transferred to Central Prison in Raleigh. He will remain there until a court date, scheduled for April 13.
Some who know the 45-year-old painter said Monday they were not surprised when they heard of Stewart's arrest, describing his past as one of troubled relationships, a spotty work record and a temper.
Sue Griffin, his wife of 15 years, until they divorced in 2002, said he had violent tendencies and would get mad when things did not go his way. Griffin said he had been trying to contact her in recent weeks and had recently left her a message saying he had cancer and was preparing to "go away."
Tim Allred said he knows Stewart from a hunting club. Known as Pee Wee to his friends, Stewart is an avid hunter who is very familiar with guns, Allred said. The hunting club kicked him out after he allegedly threatened another member.
"He's still the same guy today that he was when he talked all that junk back then," Allred said, "and it's led up to what he really would do in life."
Court records show no major criminal convictions for Stewart – he pleaded guilty in 1998 to not paying child support and a DWI conviction stemming from a drunken-driving case.
He was involved in a few minor civil complaints, including a 2002 order that he surrender $1,103 after a woman complained his painting business failed at repainting some wrought iron furniture.