Local News

DA: Nursing home shooting was not random

Posted March 30, 2009
Updated March 31, 2009

— 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."

Carthage police Chief Chris McKenzie 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.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • falcatta Mar 31, 2009

    t_hendricks: "Had there been someone with a gun who was legally allowed to carry it, that would still not have prevented all casualties. There would still have been some amount of firing before anyone else could draw and fire their weapon in defense."

    You are correct, a person on site with a legally carried weapon might not have prevented all casualities but would have likely prevented some if not most. According to the article, the killer (not gunman, as Officer Garner was also a gunman in this situation - do we call killers who use a knife a knifeman?) wreaked havoc for 15 minutes before being stopped. Do you really think having someone already on site with a legally carried gun would have made no difference? Or perhaps, you think that it's not worth it if we can't prevent all of the casualties? The math to me seems pretty clear; stopping him early would have been better than stopping him later.

  • short Mar 31, 2009

    It was NOT a random act.......what could these poor innocent victims have done to this man......other than live where his wife worked? Something is not making sense. My God relieve the family's pain quickly and but leave the cherished memories of all these loved ones.

  • sykesterryb Mar 30, 2009

    It is horrific that when people "snap" (as this man obviously
    did) they feel compelled to go on a shooting rampage. But I
    doubt mental health services would've helped, not that I think
    that he couldn't have benefitted from them. I doubt he'd even seek them out. Ignorant, hostile, and armed is a scary mix.

  • US VET Mar 30, 2009

    "Not random" where's the information?

  • Fuquay Resident Mar 30, 2009

    SLR, what do you mean the news is being secretive about the shooter's information? They've given his name, we've seen his picture, talked to his ex-wife, found out that the only record he has is a DWI from years ago, what more info do you want? The media is releasing all the info they can. Law enforcement isn't releasing any more info as to not jeopardize the case and the story says that too.

  • xchief661 Mar 30, 2009

    OMG! I just heard the 911 calls and cannot stop the tears. God love them all they were so afraid. You just want to jump through the phone and help them. My heart breaks for the families and those who went through this tragedy. I do tend to agree with curious' comment. People are so crazy. I would be so afraid. Actually, I don't even go to the mall anymore and I look crazy in the grocery store watching everybody.

  • Supie Mar 30, 2009

    anyone know why the news is so secretive about the shooter's information? who is he? why did he choose this place?

  • redwarrior Mar 30, 2009

    More reason to carry everywhere I go.

  • mwilliams2 Mar 30, 2009

    "What they say is that in "gun free zones" where these shootings often occur, the right to self-defense with a firearm should not be denied to those who are legally allowed to carry one."

    Had there been someone with a gun who was legally allowed to carry it, that would still not have prevented all casualties. There would still have been some amount of firing before anyone else could draw and fire their weapon in defense. The only way to have prevented the casualties would be to not have given this lunatic a gun in the first place. Yes it's true - he could have found another weapon like knife or bat. However, that requires closer interaction with the victim, making it less appealing to someone who wants to go on a rampage. It's much easier for a crazy to hide behind a shotgun than it is for him to engage in hand to hand combat.

  • ToTheBeach Mar 30, 2009

    The officer is indeed a brave man and a hero. To go into that facility to face a gunman alone. He definitely deserves ALL the praise and attention he is getting - which should be more attention than the cowardly, cold-blooded murderer who shot and killed these innocent, defenseless patients. Also more coverage should be given to the heroic nurse who died and was reported to have 27 gunshot wounds. He died a hero as well, as I would think those bullets were meant for other unsuspecting patients. Thoughts and prayers to all families who had loved ones die and were injured. And to all who endured this horrible tragedy.