Local News

Mom: Suspect's estranged wife survived shooting by hiding

Posted March 31, 2009

— A nurse's assistant who might have been the target of a shooting rampage that killed seven patients and a nurse at a Carthage nursing home survived by hiding in a bathroom inside a locked area for Alzheimer's patients.

Margaret Neal said Tuesday that her daughter, Wanda Stewart, is distraught by the alleged actions of her estranged husband, Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45.

"She's devastated," Neal said. "I can't describe how she feels."

Robert Stewart Estranged wife hid during shooting

Authorities are investigating whether Robert Stewart's relationship with his wife was a motive behind the attack, but Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said Monday a motive has not been established.

"In my heart, I think he was wanting to hurt her," Neal said. "He knew all the time where she would be."

Wanda Stewart was working in the Alzheimer's unit, which is accessible only by code, Sunday morning, when, police said, Robert Stewart allegedly walked into the Pinelake Health and Rehab and shot 11 people, including a police officer.

"But she was hiding, and he didn't know the code to get in," Neal said. "He was trying to get in, and he didn't care who he hurt to get there."

Neal said investigators have spoken extensively with her daughter. She left her husband about a month ago, Neal said, because she could not take his mood swings and outbursts anymore. She moved in with her parents, but he kept calling.

"He wouldn't leave her alone," she said. "She left, and he just got in a rage, I guess."

Reached at her Robbins home Tuesday, Robert Stewart's mother, Mary Stewart, declined to comment on her son's arrest or the allegations he faces.

Court documents show the Stewarts' breakup was part of an on-again, off-again relationship that spread over many years and bookended other failed marriages.

Friends said he was abusive and controlling during their marriage, and they believe there was nothing she could have done to stop Sunday's shooting.

"I know it must be a terrible thing to have to think about all the time," said Peggy Stewart, who is not related to the couple. "And I just hope she'll make it and be all right."

According to marriage records in Moore County, a 19-year-old Robert Stewart married 17-year-old Wanda Gay Neal in July 1983. They divorced three years later, and both were involved in several other marriages before they reunited and married a second time in June 2002.

Even as they married several other people, Robert Stewart still talked about her, said Sue Griffin, who was his wife for 15 years.

Griffin said he would often compare the two, complaining that, "Wanda doesn't do it like that."

"I'd look at him and say, 'Well, I ain't Wanda,'" Griffin said in an interview Monday. "As time went on, I could tell he wasn't quite over her."

Griffin said in an earlier interview that Robert Stewart had recently started telling family he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to "go away."

Police say an officer's gunshot to Robert Stewart's upper body stopped Sunday morning's violence.

Stewart made his first court appearance Monday on eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer. He isn't scheduled to return to court until next month.

He remains in medical care at the state's Central Prison in Raleigh.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • lockinlady Apr 1, 2009

    It's awful that the media is painting a picture of her as using the patients as human shields. She did what anyone else would have done.

    The DC Sniper's ex wife was made out to be a vilified as well. These women are not at fault for being victims of domestic violence. No one is accountable for this crime except the sniper.

  • jjslilred Apr 1, 2009

    Ms. Stewart did save people from being killed by her estranged husband. I know the people patients in the Alzheimer's Unit and they would have been easy targets for this man. She and other nurses did exactly what the authorities told them to do (listen to the 911 calls and police radio chat): secure the patients and stay there until the police get there. When Mr. Stewart showed up, no one knew it was him killing people, least of all those that are in the Unit (in the very back of the facility). Ms. Stewart is no more to blame than anyone else. She was a victim, just like everyone at the facility that day. Anyone who suggests otherwise is doing so out of incompassion and presumptive ignorance. No one knew who he was until after it was over and no one, but Officer Garner, could have stopped him from what he did on Sunday.

  • Sauratownmtn Apr 1, 2009

    Some of you thats posting and putting the blame on Wanda Stewart needs to stop and think about what you are saying. From what I have read she was in her unit working and protecting her patients and yes, they did hide, just as any nurse would do to protect herself and her patients. Just stop and put yourself in Wanda's shoes...Would you have done anything different? I don't think you would...Think before you comment. Let's keep "Wanda" in our prayers as well as everyone else..

  • haggis basher Apr 1, 2009

    She had a duty to try to protect others and she didn't. What if she'd been a school teacher and this was a classroom full of kids he killed!
    She had no duty to protect the patients against a gunman. None whatsoever. Her job was as a nurse not a Cop or a Soldier. Stop trying to pass blame on from where it belongs, the gunman and the lax laws that allowed him to own enough weapons to equipment a small army whilst everyone "knew" he was unstable.

  • JAT Apr 1, 2009

    They still won't posts my posts - oh well.

    She may not have been able to stop him but she maybe could have prevented it. She knew he was violent and thought of him immediately when she heard there was shooting. Why would you do that if you didn't really think there was a problem? She had a duty to try to protect others and she didn't. What if she'd been a school teacher and this was a classroom full of kids he killed!

  • haggis basher Apr 1, 2009

    "had she not been hiding in a bathroom. "
    To blame the killers wife is just obscene. WRAL should block these posts.

  • jamiemarie0801 Apr 1, 2009

    How stupid can some of you be? It is in no way her fault that this maniac killed these people. She has probably been through years of abuse with this man, and has suffered enough. If you don't have any better sense when you speak out up here then you shouldn't say a thing. Do not put all those lives on her shoulders if his intention was only to kill her he wouldnt have shot anyone else before he got the chance to get her.

  • oldrebel Mar 31, 2009

    Was Mr. Avant shot 27 times, or did his body have 27 pellets after the shooting. There is a difference. To have been shot 27 times would mean the shooter would have to reload several times. I think the greater possibility is that he was hit with 27 different pellets.

  • oldrebel Mar 31, 2009

    " If I'm her, I'm feeling just a little guilty that I hid in a closet while 8 people were murdered. Just saying." What a thoughtless, insensitive thing to say.

  • Whodathunkit Mar 31, 2009

    Estranged wife is a CNA at the facility, Mr. Avent was a CNA at the facility. Mr. Avent, according to his father was shot 27 times. This was not a random shooting, that was a statement