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Carthage shootings remembered a year later

Posted March 29, 2010

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— Cpl. Justin Garner was the only police officer on duty in the small town of Carthage on Sunday, March 29, 2009, when the call came in shortly after 10 a.m.

A man had stormed into the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center on Pinehurst Avenue, shooting at everything around him and barging into the rooms of terrified patients, sparing some from his rampage without explanation while killing seven residents and a nurse.

Victims of Carthage massacre remembered Victims of Carthage massacre remembered

The then-25-year-old walked through the front door and about four minutes later, came face to face with the gunman in a hallway. Garner ordered him to drop his gun. Then, there was gunfire.

Garner had been shot twice in the leg before he shot Robert Kenneth Stewart, 46, in the shoulder, ending the rampage.

The ordeal lasted less than 20 minutes.

A year later, Garner returned at the scene of the crime as residents, employees and victims' family members gathered outside the nursing home for an informal service to remember the victims.

Pinelake residents Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; and Louise De Kler, 98; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39, died that day.

"It's very emotional. It brings back a lot of memories," Garner said. "I was working yesterday, and it was hard to believe it's been a year. Not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about it."

A more formal service is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Carthage, where Garner is expected to receive two awards for his heroic actions.

Meanwhile, Stewart is awaiting trial at Central Prison in Raleigh on eight counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Authorities have not offered a motive for the slayings, but Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, a Pinelake employee who was working that morning, said she believed Stewart was looking for her.

"(I had) cold chills the whole time I was standing there," Garner said after Monday morning's service. "It was just about a year ago that I walked through that front door. It was mindblowing."

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  • VT1994Hokie Mar 29, 2010

    I thank the other people that posted on this one. I learned something about the others that helped save lives, and one lost his. I hope that WRAL would do something special for this person and his family members. The Pilot paper might have mentioned what he did, and I may have missed it. God Bless all families that lost loved ones at this time.

  • Fiddlemom Mar 29, 2010

    I and behalf of the others who are involved at Pinelake, would like to thank all the golo'ers and there mention of Jerry Avant. He was a good friend of mine, fellow nurse, ( I am the lady in the pink in this photo) and he is sorely missed. I hope that after the trial more positive things can be said publicly about him.

  • 1Moms_View Mar 29, 2010

    Justin Garner is a hero. The male nurse who died while trying to protect residents was also a hero. Thankfully, Justin's training enabled him to remove the immediate threat and danger to the residents and staff that day. Surely that animal would have killed more innocent people that day if Officer Garner hadn't arrived when he did. It's unfortunate that that monster didn't choose to eliminate himself rather than killing innocent people. There's a special place in h-e-l-l for him.

  • CodeNameJade Mar 29, 2010

    Officer Garner is a hero, and undoubtedly saved many lives that day. I wish that the media would also mention the nurse, Jerry Avant, and how he also helped to save lives that day before he died. According to a local newspaper article, all of the details won't come out until the trial.

    My thoughts and prayers are with all who are suffering because of this terrible act. I hope the trial happens soon so the families can at least have some closure and continue with their healing.

  • VT1994Hokie Mar 29, 2010

    I was fortunate to meet Justin Gardner last week at a golf course here in Moore County. He was with a friend and when his friend called his name--it becoame clear of who he was. I went up to him and congratulated him on his hero efforts to take down the killer. He has been acknowledged from the National Leaders to his roots here in Moore County. He is a genuine person to talk to. We talked foor different times while he was hitting golfballs beside me. Great sense of humor and just a great human being. He deserves all of the honors and accolodes that have been given to him.

    He is perhaps the real first hero that I have ever met. We thank you Justin for saving many more lives. A true HERO.