Eight dead in Carthage nursing-home shooting
Posted March 29, 2009 11:41 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2009 1:45 p.m. EDT
Carthage, N.C. — A lone gunman burst into a North Carolina nursing home Sunday morning and started "shooting everything," barging into the rooms of terrified patients, sparing some from his rampage without explanation while killing seven residents and a nurse caring for them.
Authorities said Robert Stewart also wounded three others, including the Carthage police officer who confronted him in a hallway of Pinelake Health and Rehab and stopped the brutal attack.
"He acted in nothing short of a heroic way today, and but for his actions, we certainly could have had a worse tragedy," said Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger. "We had an officer, a well-trained officer, who performed his job the way he was supposed to and prevented this from getting even worse than it is now."
By late Sunday afternoon, Krueger had charged Stewart, 45, of Moore County, with eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer. Authorities offered few other details, allowing only that Stewart was not a patient or an employee at the nursing home and isn't believed to be related to any of the victims.
"I don't know if the emotion entirely has set in," said Police Chief Chris McKenzie, a Carthage native who said nothing in his nearly 20-year law enforcement career compared to Sunday's slaughter. "It's a small community built on faith, and faith will get us through."
Authorities searched Stewart's home, 2530 Glendon Carthage Road in Carthage, Sunday night. While they declined to comment on a possible motive, Stewart's ex-wife said he had violent tendencies. Sue Griffin said she was married to Stewart for 15 years.
“He would get mad because of things that didn't go his way. He never really hurt me, but he would get mad and blow up,” Griffin said.
Authorities said Stewart began his rampage around 10 a.m. at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center, 801 Pinehurst Ave., a 110-bed rehabilitation, nursing and Alzheimer's care facility in Carthage. It ended when 25-year-old Officer Justin Garner traded gunfire with Stewart in a hallway, wounding the suspect.
"He just comes in and just starts shooting everything around," said Sen. Harris Blake, of Moore County, relating the story told by sheriff's officials.
Garner was wounded in his leg, and police said Stewart wounded two others. One person remained hospitalized Sunday night at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in nearby Pinehurst, and police would only say Stewart was in the custody of the Moore County Sheriff.
Krueger said the victims were 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 Jr., 39.
“All I heard was just that someone went in there and started shooting,” said Jerry Avant, Jerry Avant Jr.’s father.
Jerry Avant said doctors called his son a hero.
“He saved a lot of lives before he went down,” Jerry Avant said.
Tammy Clark's mother was inside the nursing home when the rampage began.
"To my understanding, he was shooting at the residents and the workers,” Clark said. “He went into the room and shot some of the people right there in their beds."
Clark’s mother wasn't injured.
“I don't know if the emotion has entirely set in. This is a small community based on faith, and faith will see us through,” McKenzie said.
The facility was closed after the attack as authorities worked to gather evidence inside and out. Krueger declined to say if authorities had moved the surviving residents, including patients with Alzheimer's disease, saying only, "They're safe, which is the primary thing."
"It’s very difficult. We prepare for these types of situations all the time. No one ever expects it to happen,” said Emily Sloane, with FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.
"We wish to express our sincere concern and condolences for the victims and their families of this tragedy. We are cooperating with the police investigation and will assist in any way that we can," Pinelake Health and Rehab said in a statement Sunday evening.
Pinelake Health and Rehab was last inspected in May, and the review resulted in an overall five-star - or "much above average" - rating from federal Medicaid officials. A nursing home Web site said the facility opened in 1993 and has 110 beds, including 20 for those with Alzheimer's disease.