Local News

Suspect's estranged wife: 'I wish it had been me'

Posted April 1, 2009
Updated April 2, 2009

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— The estranged wife of a man accused of fatally shooting eight people at the Carthage nursing home where she works said she wishes she had been the victim of her husband's alleged rampage.

“I went yesterday to the families, to the victims," Wanda Stewart, 43, said Wednesday. "The ones that would speak to me, I told them I was sorry. I wish it had been me, instead of them.”

Wanda Stewart Wife speaks out about nursing home shootings

Three days ago, police said, Robert Kenneth Stewart walked into Pinelake Health and Rehab and killed seven patients and a nurse before a police officer shot him.

“In his mind, he thought if he couldn’t get me – I believe he was going to get me where it hurt the most," she said. "What kind of man goes after somebody in a wheelchair? That’s a coward.”

Carthage police have not said publicly what Robert Stewart's motive was, but they have said they are investigating whether the shooting spree could have been domestic.

Stewart said she left her husband four weeks ago, and court documents show the couple had an on-again, off-again relationship that spread over many years. 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.

Stewart has worked at the facility as a nursing assistant for the past three years. On Sunday, she was was working in the Alzheimer's unit, a part of the building that requires a pass code for access, when she heard on a loudspeaker that a man was inside with a gun.

She and her coworkers immediately began moving residents into a TV room to keep them safe, she said.

"We barricaded the door. We put down the blinds, and we sat and cried and hugged each other," Stewart said. "We tried to keep them comforted as much as we could."

While going back for more patients, she said, another nursing assistant came running down the hall and said the gunman was coming. Stewart said she ducked into a bathroom alone for about three minutes.

"When I came back out, I helped two of the nurses get another resident," she said. "I was not hiding, and I did not stay there the whole time. I couldn't. I'm not that type of person."

Upon hearing the description of the gunman over the loud speaker, she had a terrible feeling, she said.

"Don't ask me why," she said. "I just knew it was him. You had to know him."

Stewart said she feels anguish about what happened and that it's hard for her not to feel as though the shooting was her fault. Prayer, her church and her family have helped her cope, she said.

Robert Stewart is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh until a scheduled court date on April 13.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • dogluvr26 Apr 2, 2009

    I don't think this coward would've stopped with just killing Ms. Stewart--she did a great deal more good helping to move patients to safety than she would have had she known from the beginning it was the psychotic ex and offered herself up to try to save others. She has absolutely no reason to feel personal responsibility for this, though most of us know that's much easier said than done. It will take time, compassion, and privacy for her to work through this--and to those who are so insensitive as to suggest she could've done something differently to stop this from happening, put this in a bit better perspective. Would you be saying this if it were your sister or mother? I dare bet not.

  • katiemorse Apr 2, 2009

    I think the bottom line is that the only person who could have realistically prevented this horrible tragedy is the gunman himself. He didn't take out a billboard and say, hey everyone I plan on shooting people at my estranged wife's nursing home. I'm sure people knew this guy was off his rocker and was capable of violence, but no one could have ever predicted or prevented this particular event. Security is great, and informing the police of specific threats is great, but at the end of the day people didn't know this was what this man planned to do. You can't arrest someone because you think they are violent, angry, or crazy. It's senseless and we should leave 100% of the blame with Robert Stewart and no one else. Whether he's evil or crazy or whatever, it's his fault and only his fault.

  • oldfirehorse Apr 2, 2009

    "If a key code entrance had been in place at this facility then this man could have never entered..." - Sweet Rose ----- While I really appreciate the spirit in which your advice is given, it's not really very realistic. The kind of fire power this man was carrying would have allowed him to breach the door, most any door, in about 5 seconds. It may have slowed him down, it may have caused him to continue his rampage outside, but it wouldn't have, most likely, stopped him from entering if he wanted to. The idea of key code locks is an excellent idea though, for most other types of criminals.

  • sweetrose Apr 2, 2009

    Now could more have been done to prevent this from happening, I believe it could have. I work in long term care and have for the past 8 years and I am still amazed that nursing homes are not required to key code entrances. If a key code entrance had been in place at this facility then this man could have never entered and caused the deaths these people. That being said he may have very well meet her in the parking lot and killed her along with any other employee or visitor that got in his way … but at least it would have stopped him from going into the home.

    IMO all nursing homes, assisted living homes and group homes should be mandated to have key code entrances. They put alarms on patients that are at fall risk … or risk of leaving the facility on their own …etc. So why can they not take the same measures they take for the Alzheimer’s unit and at risk patients … and key code the front door.

    over 120 comments not one has placed any blame on the nursing facility.

  • sweetrose Apr 2, 2009

    I see a lot of blame being aimed toward Wanda and I really and shocked and amazed at some of the comments. This woman had no clue when the gunman entered this facility that it was her X … she did what she could do to get the Alzheimer’s patients to safety behind a secured door. It was in NO WAY her fault that this man snapped and killed these people. She will carry the scars of this day for the rest of her life. That IMO is worse than death.

  • oldfirehorse Apr 2, 2009

    Just tuned in. Lordy, people are still trashing this lady? Please call the nearest family support center and ask some questions about spousal abuse and educate yourself. As far as all reports of the terrible incident she did what she could to safeguard patients and avoid being shot. At least she didn't jump out a window as they reported some of the staff did? It appears to have been stated by others in many different ways; she did what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances. To think otherwise, in my opinion, is very abnormal.

  • LiveLifeToTheFullest Apr 2, 2009

    katiemorse-i couldn't agree more. :-)

  • haggis basher Apr 2, 2009

    "Jat and Haggis are right-"
    There is no "Jat and Haggis" its someone else using our Golo names.
    If you read this blog we have completely differing viewpoints on the subject.

  • haggis basher Apr 2, 2009

    "She still should have told her employees and done something. But instead she did nothing."
    You really don't get it do you? She could do nothing other than die and what would the point of that been? Sure she would be hailed a hero, but she would be a dead hero. It would have just added one more dead body to the toll. Me, I prefer people alive. She wasn't a Cop or a Soldier and we certainly don't pay nurses enough for them to act as bodyguards. She was terrified and just like you and me would do in the same place she tried to hide from the person trying to kill her. Its easy to be big and brave and say I would do this or I would do that but until it happens to you, you don't have a clue!

  • JAT Apr 2, 2009

    haggis, but at what point do you think a person has the obligation to try to protect others in society and notify someone that you think someone is likely to kill?