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Officer stopped nursing home rampage with one shot

Posted August 3, 2011
Updated August 9, 2011

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— The police officer credited with ending a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home two years ago that left eight people dead and three others injured testified Wednesday that he stopped the gunman with one shot.

Justin Garner, formerly with the Carthage Police Department, said that he saw Robert Kenneth Stewart pointing a gun at the Alzheimer's unit at Pinelake Health and Rehab on March 29, 2009. Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, was working in the Alzheimer's unit that day.

"He initially threw his hands up in the air, I guess, signifying that he was not a threat," Garner said. "He was carrying a shotgun...He was reloading it."

Garner said Robert Stewart then lowered the shotgun in his direction. In response, Garner fired his gun once, hitting him in the shoulder. Garner said he then felt something strike his left leg. After stepping into a nearby patient's room, he saw that he had been shot.

"I remember thinking to myself, I need to get out there and figure out what was going on," Garner said.

Garner stepped back into the hallway and saw Robert Stewart lying face down on the floor. The officer handcuffed him with two sets of handcuffs and unloaded Stewart's shotgun and revolver.

"He kept saying, 'Kill me. Kill me. Please just kill me,'" Garner said.

Garner was the first officer on the scene. When other law enforcement arrived, Robert Stewart continued to ask them to kill him. Ken Shaw, a former deputy with the Moore County Sheriff's Office, said Stewart was calm as he asked to be executed.

Robert Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

He admitted during a court hearing last month that he killed a nurse and seven Pinelake patients, but defense attorney Jonathan Megerian said Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible for his actions.

Megerian said in his opening statement Monday that Robert Stewart had overdosed on the sleeping-aid Ambien the night before the shootings and was taking anti-depressants at the time.

Megerian cited a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report that Ambien can put someone in a hypnotic state and cause people to "do an activity that you are not aware that you're doing." Tests run after the shooting showed that Robert Stewart had 12 times the therapeutic dose of Ambien in his system, his attorney said.

Carthage Police Cpl. Justin Garner - Carthage nursing home shoot Officer who stopped nursing home shooting testifies

Garner, who is now a cadet in training with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, said Robert Stewart's speech wasn't slurred when he took him into custody.

Moore County emergency worker Edward Chadwick testified that Robert Stewart was at the highest level of alertness – even too calm – when he examined him.

"I've picked up many gunshot victims who've been calm like that, but it just seemed like a big situation," Chadwick said.


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  • spookems Aug 4, 2011

    Ambien may have impacted the killer's actions, but it was his decision to take well above the prescribed dosage and it was his decision to mix it with alcohol.

    He is as responsible as a drunk driver who causes a fatal wreck. Lock them up and keep them locked up for the public good.

    Research Ambien. It seems to be involved in other fatal attacks and traffic accidents by otherwise sane normal people. I think the VA is prescribing it to veterans. It is being prescribed by the military for troops in war zones. Supposedly, you won't do anything out of the ordinary, but what is ordinary for someone who is trained and encouraged to kill, armed with a weapon, and in a combat zone where the enemy can be anyone. Who is the enemy at home? An angry spouse, someone in the way, anyone at the moment. Who is the enemy in your subconscious when you're asleep but wide awake? Ambien is dangerous.

    The man needs to remain locked up somewhere.

  • spookems Aug 4, 2011

    I know that I did the work in my garage at night after taking Ambien because I remembered what I had accomplished the day before. I was working on a specific project, stopped work, put my tools away, locked the tool box, placed the tool box key out of sight on a shelf, turned on the outside light, turned off the inside lights, locked the door, looked the deadbolt, and went thirty yards to the house. Standard procedure.
    The following morning after a full nights sleep, I was extremely tired, my tool box was unlocked, my tools were out, and the item that I had been working on was closer to completion. The garage was also locked.
    I've had several doctors tell me that Ambien is known to cause sleep walking. Apparently, I used a mill and a lathe. I took precision measurements to 0.001 inches on the work piece.
    I took Ambien as prescribed twice and will never take it again. It is dangerous.
    Under Ambien, you can function perfectly, yet have no knowledge or memory of your actions.

  • wildcat Aug 4, 2011

    Life in prison and no parole. This man deserves life and knew exactly what he was doing. Give the families justice.

  • jmenot Aug 4, 2011

    ya'll i know someone that took one of those drugs. he had to stop after we realized what was causing the problem. but, he would get up during all hours of the night,eat and would actually cook food and would not even acknowledge us.. we would talk to him, but it was like he wasn't even there. it was really scary at times. off the medicine now, can't sleep , but in his right mind now. i feel like pharmacutical companies pretty much run our country. i also send respect to the young officer that did not unload on someone. the other 99% would have. i am not defending the shooter at all! my prayers go out to the families.

  • davido Aug 4, 2011

    I saw that Stewart guy on TV last night. That officer isn't so hot--even I could've hit that target! ha

  • annemarek Aug 3, 2011

    In a case like this Stewart should have been shot dead.

  • jmrado47 Aug 3, 2011

    A person is still responsible for a crime even if they are depressed and taking medications. The defendant was aware the harm he was causing. The penalty phase should determine if there are any mitigating circumstances that might avoid the death penalty for the defendant.

  • bombayrunner Aug 3, 2011

    Yea, this cop was certainly a brave fella facing a shotgun with a pea-shooter. At least he was smart enough to try and get out of the way too instead of testing his vest. Good reaction unloading the weapons (so someone wouldn't try and kill the shooter with his own gun). Hard to believe his 40 or 9mm brought him down at all.

  • bombayrunner Aug 3, 2011

    no one in their right mind would kill a bunch of old folks. I havent read if he's had a big ole violent record or anything ... probably a touch of mental illness and those pills made him nuts and let his under-feelings take over. Just be glad the old lady of his wasn't working in an elementary school.

  • eccgc Aug 3, 2011

    This officer is a hero!