Local News

Carthage officer nominated as 'America's Most Wanted' All-Star

Posted February 20, 2010 7:00 a.m. EST

— A Carthage police officer has been nominated as an "America's Most Wanted" All Star for shooting a suspect and ending a shooting rampage in a nursing home last March.

Justin Garner, then a 25-year-old corporal, was the only officer on duty on a Sunday morning when calls came in, saying that a gunman was rampaging through the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center. Ten people had been shot, including eight who died.

Garner said that he initially called for backup, but after seeing vehicle windows shot out in the parking lot, realized that he needed to go in quickly – even if he was alone.

Inside the nursing home, Garner confronted Robert Kenneth Stewart, who was carrying a shotgun. Garner said he ordered Stewart to drop his gun, but he didn't, and the two exchanged fire. Garner's bullet hit Stewart in the chest, while three pellets struck Garner's left leg.

Garner underwent surgery and returned to work in May 2009. Stewart is in prison awaiting trial on eight charges of first-degree murder.

"If not for (Garner's) quick response time and courageous actions, more innocent people could have died that day," reads Garner's nomination for "America's Most Wanted" All Stars.

Online viewer voting will determine who wins the contest. Voting continues weekly through April 11, and the winner will be announced April 17.

The winner gets a $10,000 cash prize and a trip for two to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Challenge in Charlotte on May 22.

If he wins, it wouldn't be Garner's first recognition for his actions. He has been promoted to sergeant, and the Carthage Police Department awarded him a Purple Heart and the Medal of Valor.

In an interview soon after the nursing home shooting, Garner didn't claim any special credit for himself.

"I don't look at it as me being a hero, but as me doing my job," he said. "I did what I had to do."

"America's Most Wanted" All Stars was created in 2005 to honor first responders who commit extraordinary acts. Another North Carolina lawman – Burke County Sheriff's Deputy Martin Lawing – received the honor in 2008.