State News

Carthage officer: 'It was very scary'

Posted April 6, 2009 10:05 a.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2009 5:28 p.m. EDT

— The police officer who stopped a man on a shooting rampage in a North Carolina nursing home says he first thought the emergency call was a misunderstanding, but knew it was serious when he saw a car with shattered windows in the parking lot.

Carthage police Officer Justin Garner told NBC's "Today" show on Monday he was scared before he confronted 45-year-old Robert Stewart inside Pinelake Health and Rehab in Carthage on March 29.

"It was very scary. When I went in ... there was doors, hallways; there was rooms everywhere, and I was just going through. I didn't know where he was at. It was very scary, very scary," Garner said.

Garner, 25, finally came face to face with Stewart about four minutes after arriving when they walked into the same hallway. They were about 35 yards away from each other, Garner said, when he ordered Stewart to put his gun down. Then they exchanged shots.

"He managed to get shot off. Apparently, it was about the same time I shot because, like I said, I never heard a gun go off. I just felt it when it struck my leg," he said.

Garner shot Stewart in the shoulder after telling him three times to drop his weapon, and Garner was hit twice in the leg.

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, were killed in the shootings.

Stewart's estranged wife was working at the nursing home but was unharmed.

Family members said that Garner will undergo surgery Tuesday morning to remove pellets from his leg. He is staying with family while recovering, they said.

Stewart was being held in Central Prison in Raleigh charge of felony assault on a law enforcement officer.