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Emergency responders cope with nursing home shooting

Posted April 1, 2009

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— Mental health professions are helping emergency responders, residents and staff cope after a gunman killed seven patients and a nurse at a Carthage nursing home on Sunday.

Grief counselors reach out to emergency responders Grief counselors reach out to emergency responders

“The staff, who were the caregivers, many of them are feeling like we didn't do what we needed to do. We could have done more. The reality is, they were victims too," said Mark Marquez, with Sandhills Center for Mental Health.

Marquez and other service provider have been counseling people since police say Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45, walked into the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center 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.

“Something of this magnitude and enormity is going to affect anybody, no matter how much of a professional and how much training you have done,” said Herb Garrison, with the state Highway Patrol.

Garrison is on a special team that helps first responders deal with tragedies.

"A lot of times that impact doesn't come into play when you are dealing with the incident itself right then, but it can come into play afterwards,” Garrison said.

For the small, close-knit town of Carthage – population about 2,100 – nearly everyone has been affected in some way by the shooting and it is going to take time to heal.

“The tragedy took place in a short period of time. It's going to take a very lengthy period time to get over this and to move on,” said John Bento, with Moore County Department of Social Services.

Authorities have identified the shooting victims as Pinelake residents Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; Louise De Kler, 98; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39.

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

The Sandhills Center for Mental Health has put together a grief program for people affected by the shooting.  Meetings will be held every Thursday in April from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 108 McNeill St. in Carthage.

The North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association has also established a fund to benefit family members of the people killed.

Contributions can be made at any branch of Capital Bank or sent payable to Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund, North Carolina Health Car Facilities Association, 5109 Bur Oak Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27612.

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