State News

Carthage officer: 'It was very scary'

Posted April 6, 2009

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— The police officer who stopped a man on a shooting rampage in a North Carolina nursing home says he first thought the emergency call was a misunderstanding, but knew it was serious when he saw a car with shattered windows in the parking lot.

Carthage police Officer Justin Garner told NBC's "Today" show on Monday he was scared before he confronted 45-year-old Robert Stewart inside Pinelake Health and Rehab in Carthage on March 29.

"It was very scary. When I went in ... there was doors, hallways; there was rooms everywhere, and I was just going through. I didn't know where he was at. It was very scary, very scary," Garner said.

Garner, 25, finally came face to face with Stewart about four minutes after arriving when they walked into the same hallway. They were about 35 yards away from each other, Garner said, when he ordered Stewart to put his gun down. Then they exchanged shots.

"He managed to get shot off. Apparently, it was about the same time I shot because, like I said, I never heard a gun go off. I just felt it when it struck my leg," he said.

Garner shot Stewart in the shoulder after telling him three times to drop his weapon, and Garner was hit twice in the leg.

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, were killed in the shootings.

Stewart's estranged wife was working at the nursing home but was unharmed.

Family members said that Garner will undergo surgery Tuesday morning to remove pellets from his leg. He is staying with family while recovering, they said.

Stewart was being held in Central Prison in Raleigh charge of felony assault on a law enforcement officer.


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  • gotittogether Apr 7, 2009

    Job well done Officer Garner! Hope your receovery is swift! Thank you for your bravery!!!!!

  • leo-nc Apr 6, 2009

    "This man protected way more residents from being injured then you did mr. police officer."----

    Not saying the nurse isn't a hero for sure, but for you to say this is laughable. Actually, it's just plain ridiculous. How many people do you think he would have killed had he not been stopped by officer Garner? Do you think he would have just stopped and said enough is enough? No, he would have continued. So don't sit there and tell me that one saved many more than the other. It makes you look like a simpleton.

  • anneonymousone Apr 6, 2009

    Officer Justin Garner is proof of the best definition of courage: it does NOT mean being unafraid during horrible events, it means feeling fear and doing what is necessary REGARDLESS of how we feel.

    This is a more realistic and sane approach than the bravado that is often offered by armchair first responders. Thank you for the training and preparation that allow you to do your job so well, Officer.

  • Common Sense Man Apr 6, 2009

    So much for the "small town officers are rejects" argument that I often hear.

  • oldfirehorse Apr 6, 2009

    rw- I guess some folks don't know better, but still, some of these posts are just over the top. There was one earlier that, well...never mind.

  • redwarrior Apr 6, 2009

    oldfirehorse, it reminds me of the saying "Some are meant to call 911, some are meant to be 911"

  • oldfirehorse Apr 6, 2009

    "It does not make me feel warm and fuzzy knowing the officer was so scared about the scene. I would be petrified, but I am not trained. Just sayin." You're "just sayin" what exactly? If you watch the video (posted somewhere below) you would see that he was responding to questions, and the tone and inflection certainly didn't say he was "so scared"; he said it was scary. Only an idiot going into that would not think it was scary, trained or not. Experience in combat teaches you to control fear; only a fool is not afraid. Sorry if that doesn't make you feel warm and fuzzy.

  • redwarrior Apr 6, 2009

    Are you suggesting that someone who is trained loses all senses of fear?

  • Just2bMe Apr 6, 2009

    I am glad he was there and helped everyone.

    It does not make me feel warm and fuzzy knowing the officer was so scared about the scene. I would be petrified, but I am not trained. Just sayin.

  • Realamerican71 Apr 6, 2009

    1 shot center mass @35 yards... You the man! My hats off to you sir.