Local News

Carthage shootings remembered a year later

Posted March 29, 2010 2:20 p.m. EDT

— Cpl. Justin Garner was the only police officer on duty in the small town of Carthage on Sunday, March 29, 2009, when the call came in shortly after 10 a.m.

A man had stormed into the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center on Pinehurst Avenue, shooting at everything around him and barging into the rooms of terrified patients, sparing some from his rampage without explanation while killing seven residents and a nurse.

The then-25-year-old walked through the front door and about four minutes later, came face to face with the gunman in a hallway. Garner ordered him to drop his gun. Then, there was gunfire.

Garner had been shot twice in the leg before he shot Robert Kenneth Stewart, 46, in the shoulder, ending the rampage.

The ordeal lasted less than 20 minutes.

A year later, Garner returned at the scene of the crime as residents, employees and victims' family members gathered outside the nursing home for an informal service to remember the victims.

Pinelake residents Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; and Louise De Kler, 98; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39, died that day.

"It's very emotional. It brings back a lot of memories," Garner said. "I was working yesterday, and it was hard to believe it's been a year. Not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about it."

A more formal service is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Carthage, where Garner is expected to receive two awards for his heroic actions.

Meanwhile, Stewart is awaiting trial at Central Prison in Raleigh on eight counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Authorities have not offered a motive for the slayings, but Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, a Pinelake employee who was working that morning, said she believed Stewart was looking for her.

"(I had) cold chills the whole time I was standing there," Garner said after Monday morning's service. "It was just about a year ago that I walked through that front door. It was mindblowing."