Local News

Suspect's estranged wife: 'I wish it had been me'

Posted April 1, 2009 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2009 6:55 a.m. EDT

— The estranged wife of a man accused of fatally shooting eight people at the Carthage nursing home where she works said she wishes she had been the victim of her husband's alleged rampage.

“I went yesterday to the families, to the victims," Wanda Stewart, 43, said Wednesday. "The ones that would speak to me, I told them I was sorry. I wish it had been me, instead of them.”

Three days ago, police said, Robert Kenneth Stewart walked into Pinelake Health and Rehab and killed seven patients and a nurse before a police officer shot him.

“In his mind, he thought if he couldn’t get me – I believe he was going to get me where it hurt the most," she said. "What kind of man goes after somebody in a wheelchair? That’s a coward.”

Carthage police have not said publicly what Robert Stewart's motive was, but they have said they are investigating whether the shooting spree could have been domestic.

Stewart said she left her husband four weeks ago, and court documents show the couple had an on-again, off-again relationship that spread over many years. 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.

Stewart has worked at the facility as a nursing assistant for the past three years. On Sunday, she was was working in the Alzheimer's unit, a part of the building that requires a pass code for access, when she heard on a loudspeaker that a man was inside with a gun.

She and her coworkers immediately began moving residents into a TV room to keep them safe, she said.

"We barricaded the door. We put down the blinds, and we sat and cried and hugged each other," Stewart said. "We tried to keep them comforted as much as we could."

While going back for more patients, she said, another nursing assistant came running down the hall and said the gunman was coming. Stewart said she ducked into a bathroom alone for about three minutes.

"When I came back out, I helped two of the nurses get another resident," she said. "I was not hiding, and I did not stay there the whole time. I couldn't. I'm not that type of person."

Upon hearing the description of the gunman over the loud speaker, she had a terrible feeling, she said.

"Don't ask me why," she said. "I just knew it was him. You had to know him."

Stewart said she feels anguish about what happened and that it's hard for her not to feel as though the shooting was her fault. Prayer, her church and her family have helped her cope, she said.

Robert Stewart is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh until a scheduled court date on April 13.