FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Carthage police chief said earlier this week that investigators are looking into whether a shooting rampage at a local nursing home could be a case of domestic violence.
Although investigators have not publicly offered a motive for the crimes, the alleged gunman's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, was working at the center when the shootings occurred.
She and her mother have said that the couple's marriage is troubled and has a history of domestic violence.
Lyndelia Wynn, program director of Cumberland County's CARE Center Family Violence Program, said Thursday that if the claims are true, she would not necessarily be surprised by Sunday's shootings.
"Chances are, there were signs," said Wynn, a social worker who has counseled hundreds of families in crisis.
"Usually, the violence starts with subtle statements, pushing – and then, it escalates," she said. "The next thing you know, you see the weapons, and somebody gets hurt."
Authorities said Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45, shot and killed eight people at Pinelake Health and Rehab on Sunday before a Carthage police officer shot him and ended the rampage. Stewart was wounded but survived and has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.
Wanda Stewart said she left her husband four weeks before the rampage, and her mother said Stewart was tired of his controlling behavior and angry outbursts.
They also claimed Robert Stewart was possessive, jealous and always knew where his wife was.
Wynn said such behavior is an indicator of a situation that needs immediate intervention.
"We don't know how far a person will go who is angry, who is enraged," she said.
Wynn said there are strategies a victim can use to diffuse anger – such as not arguing, talking softly, acting sympathetic and making eye contact.
But the best thing to do, she said, is seek intervention the first time violence begins, and get treatment and police protection before it becomes violent.
A statewide study recently found that 131 people died in 2008 as a result of domestic violence.
Wynn said studies also show that victims go back to their abusers an average of seven times before they leave for good.
The CARE program, which helped approximately 500 families deal with domestic violence last year, offers services for both victims and abusers. Those services include free counseling, an emergency shelter for women and children and a six-month treatment program for batterers.
"Don't wait," she said. "It's not going to get better."