Local News

Carthage community seeks answers amid grief

Posted March 30, 2009
Updated March 31, 2009

— Bobby Dunn went every week after church to visit his mother at the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center in Carthage.

He knew that, at age 89, her days were numbered. But he never expected her to die the way she did.

Lillian Dunn was one of seven patients at the nursing home to fall victim to a gunman's rage Sunday morning. She was sitting in her wheelchair when, police say, Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45, shot her to death.

Lillian Dunn- Carthage nursing home shooting victim Victims were parents, heroes

"You expect them to go, because of their age, but you don't expect them to go like that," Dunn said. "It's kind of hard."

Initially, Lillian Dunn was upset about being in a nursing home, but she recently came to enjoy the company of new friends there. Bobby Dunn still doesn't know what to think, and he's still trying to make sense of what happened.

"Mama had a good life, but she didn't deserve this," he said. "She couldn't even get up. She couldn't even wheel herself anywhere."

Investigators with the Carthage Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation spent much of Sunday and Monday collecting evidence to find out just what exactly happened. (Read more about the investigation.)

They're reluctant to release too many details about the case, so as not to compromise the integrity of their investigation.

What is public knowledge is that a man, allegedly Stewart, walked into Pinelake around 10 a.m. Sunday with multiple weapons and began shooting. About 18 minutes later, officer Justin Garner, wounded himself, stopped Stewart with a single gunshot to the chest.

Stewart's charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony assault on a law enforcement officer. He's being held in the medical ward at Central Prison in Raleigh.

There are more questions than answers. And there are more tears than questions.Holly Foster said she doesn’t think she can cry anymore.

"I did all of that last night," she said. "I'm sure I will many, many, many more times, but for right now, I'm just pretty much numb."

Her father, Jesse Musser, 88, suffered from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. He loved to walk the halls of Pinelake. His wife is also a patient at Pinelake; she was in another part of the nursing home and was unharmed.

"Daddy was a very quiet person," Foster said.

Louise De Kler, who turned 98 on March 6, was recovering "very nicely" from a stroke last month, her daughter-in-law Gay De Kler said in an e-mail to WRAL News.

"She was the best mother-in-law anyone could want to have for the last 47 years," De Kler, of Lake Ariel, Pa., said. "She is one of 12 siblings, and she took care of all of them until their deaths, as well."

Tessie Garner, 75; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89 – also patient-victims whose stories remain to be told.

And then, there's Jerry Avant Jr., 39, a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard whose tenderness and love for the elderly inspired him to become a nurse and give back to those who gave so much in their lives.

He was doing what he loved when he died.

Jill DeGarmo met him in Christmas 2003. They planned to be married this August.

"I know he didn't want to die," she told CBS News' "The Early Show" Monday morning. "And his biggest concern was praying. He wanted me to pray with him, and he wanted – even if this was going to be it for him – he wanted to get his last moments in with God."

The pain is raw; the shock, overwhelming; and the emotion, too much to overcome.

For the small, close-knit town of Carthage – population about 2,100 – nearly everyone has been affected in some way, and so many are struggling with the question: "Why?"

"It's a hard question. It's going to take some time," said the Rev. Tom Herndon, minister at the First Baptist Church of Carthage. "It takes some time to prepare for natural disasters – we're usually given days or a few hours. But something like this – we were given no time. It was instantaneous and there was no way to prepare for this."

But Herndon and other local ministers say that, with time, the community can get through the tragedy and return to some sort of normalcy.

But they will never forget it.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 2, 2009

    jjslilred, as you lecture me, you and I are both kickin' the horse. :-) I'm sorry these people were killed and stated that in my initial comment that was flagged & removed. But, I'm also upset that people use times like this to promote their religion, especially from the government's bully pulpit. And, you may want to look up the definition of "faith" and how it's the opposite of empirical evidence based on the Scientific Method. Otherwise, according to your logic, you have "faith" that invisible elephants don't circle Jupiter.

  • jjslilred Apr 1, 2009

    hereandnow, you are not understanding. even without believing in God, you have a faith that He is not there, therefore you have a faith. The Police Chief (which, again is not the Sheriff, but the Chief of Police...meaning there is a difference in positions there, just in case you were neglecting to listen, yet again) simply said we had faith. I don't care what faith he may or may not have. I identify my faith with God, just as my mother (a Wiccan) identifies her faith in the goddess, and an athiest identifies with the faith that there is no one to believe in. Anyway, this wasn't your initial argument (you simply picked up on haggis basher's) and this poor horse is beyond dead. I am sorry that you have so little compassion or understanding for what we are going through. If you did, you respectfully leave it alone and offer whatever condolences you see fit.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 1, 2009

    jjslilred, so the Sheriff is a Buddhist? ;-) Regardless, how appropriate would it be for the Sheriff to say "Let us rely on each other, because there are no gods and we need to deal with the reality of this situation." Can people of faith EVER understand what it means to have powerful, government officials ASSUME we are all of "faith" and then instruct everyone about it?

  • jjslilred Apr 1, 2009

    hereandnow, your problem was never with the government endorsement of religion, but rather that someone had the guts to mention God. The Carthage police chief (not sheriff) mentioned that this was a faith based community and that our faith would get us through. He did not mention what faith, just that we had faith. Some of us chose to be more specific. You made an assumption, and we all know what assumptions make us look like.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Mar 31, 2009

    southernborn24, please read my post.

    The nutshell of it: How would you feel if the Sheriff was a Muslim and asked everyone in the county to "bow your heads and thank Allah" that this shooter was stopped? It's only about GOVERNMENT endorsement. Clearer now?

  • southernborn24 Mar 31, 2009

    I just don't understand some of you people and your religious views...WHY does it bother you that WE believe and have faith. If you don't believe anyways why be offended. This Country was founded on freedom of religion...I have the right to believe - you have the right not to. If I say something you don't believe in - just ignore it - I try hard to ignore your lack of faith and when you state that you don't believe I don't get offended...I feel sorry for you..but I keep that to myself too.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Mar 31, 2009

    jjslilred, the problem is when religious endorsement or funding come from our government, like the sheriff, in this case. THAT is contrary to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Pretend the mayor made a speech encouraging everyone to go to a Satanic church's children's carnival and then gives them some city $$...you know...just to help out.)

    Then there's the numbers: 15% of the U.S. is not religious (and rising rapidly thanks to the internet)...and another 10% don't follow the deity of the day...which means 1 in 4 are non-Christians. Regardless of these figures, there's just no place for government endorsement (or hindrance) of one particular religion over another religion or over non-religion. Private people on private property do their own private thing...no problem.

  • jjslilred Mar 31, 2009

    Hereandnow, please know that I didn't flag your comment. Thank you for understanding. The media was simply interviewing anyone they could since not much information was available elsewhere. There were reporters everywhere.

    Haggis basher, I didn't know you lived in Carthage? If you did, or if you were even connected to this event at all, you would realize how inappropriate you are being. Can you not understand that not everyone is as intolerant of religion as you? Not one person I've talked to was offended by the Chief's comments! We're not forcing anyone to conform to a religious standard here, WE'RE GRIEVING!!!!! If some of us turn to God to grieve, why does that bother you?

  • haggis basher Mar 31, 2009

    "You have to understand that our community is relying heavily on God"
    And you have to understand that not all your "Community" is and its inappropriate for you to say they are.

  • haggis basher Mar 31, 2009

    "I just asked questions about a popular deity. Note: I would have asked the same about a less popular deity too."
    The mistake you made is not waiting until one of the popular deities followers posts something really silly first.