Hero officer returns to work after nursing home shootings
Posted May 6, 2009 8:02 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2009 8:55 a.m. EDT
CARTHAGE, N.C. — Everywhere Carthage police officer Cpl. Justin Garner goes, people approach him, pat him on the back, shake his hand and call him a hero.
Frankly, he's a bit overwhelmed by his celebrity status in the small town of about 2,100 people – where he really just wants to be one thing: a good police officer.
The last time Garner, 25, was on the job was Sunday, March 29 – the morning he squared off with a gunman suspected of killing seven patients and a nurse at Pinelake Health and Rehab.
Garner was also shot in the leg when he brought down the alleged gunman, Robert Kenneth Stewart, with a single gunshot to the chest.
He returned to work Tuesday, where he has been assigned temporarily to desk duty.
Chief Chris McKenzie said that although Garner is ready to return to patrol, he will be on administrative work for about two weeks.
"I can't do much of this office duty," said Garner, a patrol officer who joined the department in 2004. He was promoted to a corporal in 2007.
Although eager to return to work, he said, he is still dealing with the trauma of what he witnessed.
"It's definitely going to take some time, but it's coming along," he said. "It's gotten a lot better than it was when I first came home from the incident. But it's still going to take a little time."
Garner's main concern, he said, is that he doesn't want what happened that day to define what happens when he gets behind the wheel of this car.
"I'm still going to do my job the way I did it before. I'm going to do the best I can," he said. "I'm going to be more alert of my surroundings. I think it's going to make me a lot better of an officer."
"He's just done exceptionally well – emotionally and physically," McKenzie said.
He believes Garner's return is good for everyone.
"Certainly, getting Justin back to work and seeing him in uniform again puts a little bit of normalcy back," he said. "That's really great, because the community, as well as the police department needs to heal. We need to move forward."
The community is still healing and signs of that are all around the close-knit town. A white ribbon hangs on the flagpole outside the police station in remembrance of the eight victims.
"I don't know if it will ever get back to normal – normal like it was before," Garner said. I imagine it will probably get back close to it, hopefully."