Local News

Mom: Suspect's estranged wife survived shooting by hiding

Posted March 31, 2009 11:48 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2009 6:52 p.m. EDT

— A nurse's assistant who might have been the target of a shooting rampage that killed seven patients and a nurse at a Carthage nursing home survived by hiding in a bathroom inside a locked area for Alzheimer's patients.

Margaret Neal said Tuesday that her daughter, Wanda Stewart, is distraught by the alleged actions of her estranged husband, Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45.

"She's devastated," Neal said. "I can't describe how she feels."



Authorities are investigating whether Robert Stewart's relationship with his wife was a motive behind the attack, but Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said Monday a motive has not been established.

"In my heart, I think he was wanting to hurt her," Neal said. "He knew all the time where she would be."

Wanda Stewart was working in the Alzheimer's unit, which is accessible only by code, Sunday morning, when, police said, Robert Stewart allegedly walked into the Pinelake Health and Rehab and shot 11 people, including a police officer.

"But she was hiding, and he didn't know the code to get in," Neal said. "He was trying to get in, and he didn't care who he hurt to get there."

Neal said investigators have spoken extensively with her daughter. She left her husband about a month ago, Neal said, because she could not take his mood swings and outbursts anymore. She moved in with her parents, but he kept calling.

"He wouldn't leave her alone," she said. "She left, and he just got in a rage, I guess."

Reached at her Robbins home Tuesday, Robert Stewart's mother, Mary Stewart, declined to comment on her son's arrest or the allegations he faces.

Court documents show the Stewarts' breakup was part of an on-again, off-again relationship that spread over many years and bookended other failed marriages.

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.

"I know it must be a terrible thing to have to think about all the time," said Peggy Stewart, who is not related to the couple. "And I just hope she'll make it and be all right."

According to marriage records in Moore County, a 19-year-old Robert Stewart married 17-year-old Wanda Gay Neal in July 1983. They divorced three years later, and both were involved in several other marriages before they reunited and married a second time in June 2002.

Even as they married several other people, Robert Stewart still talked about her, said Sue Griffin, who was his wife for 15 years.

Griffin said he would often compare the two, complaining that, "Wanda doesn't do it like that."

"I'd look at him and say, 'Well, I ain't Wanda,'" Griffin said in an interview Monday. "As time went on, I could tell he wasn't quite over her."

Griffin said in an earlier interview that Robert Stewart had recently started telling family he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to "go away."

Police say an officer's gunshot to Robert Stewart's upper body stopped Sunday morning's violence.

Stewart made his first court appearance Monday on eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer. He isn't scheduled to return to court until next month.

He remains in medical care at the state's Central Prison in Raleigh.