Local News

Officer stopped nursing home rampage with one shot

Posted August 3, 2011 10:18 a.m. EDT
Updated April 3, 2019 2:11 p.m. EDT

— The police officer credited with ending a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home two years ago that left eight people dead and three others injured testified Wednesday that he stopped the gunman with one shot.

Justin Garner, formerly with the Carthage Police Department, said that he saw Robert Kenneth Stewart pointing a gun at the Alzheimer's unit at Pinelake Health and Rehab on March 29, 2009. Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, was working in the Alzheimer's unit that day.

"He initially threw his hands up in the air, I guess, signifying that he was not a threat," Garner said. "He was carrying a shotgun...He was reloading it."

Garner said Robert Stewart then lowered the shotgun in his direction. In response, Garner fired his gun once, hitting him in the shoulder. Garner said he then felt something strike his left leg. After stepping into a nearby patient's room, he saw that he had been shot.

"I remember thinking to myself, I need to get out there and figure out what was going on," Garner said.

Garner stepped back into the hallway and saw Robert Stewart lying face down on the floor. The officer handcuffed him with two sets of handcuffs and unloaded Stewart's shotgun and revolver.

"He kept saying, 'Kill me. Kill me. Please just kill me,'" Garner said.

Garner was the first officer on the scene. When other law enforcement arrived, Robert Stewart continued to ask them to kill him. Ken Shaw, a former deputy with the Moore County Sheriff's Office, said Stewart was calm as he asked to be executed.

Robert Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

He admitted during a court hearing last month that he killed a nurse and seven Pinelake patients, but defense attorney Jonathan Megerian said Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible for his actions.

Megerian said in his opening statement Monday that Robert Stewart had overdosed on the sleeping-aid Ambien the night before the shootings and was taking anti-depressants at the time.

Megerian cited a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report that Ambien can put someone in a hypnotic state and cause people to "do an activity that you are not aware that you're doing." Tests run after the shooting showed that Robert Stewart had 12 times the therapeutic dose of Ambien in his system, his attorney said.

Garner, who is now a cadet in training with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, said Robert Stewart's speech wasn't slurred when he took him into custody.

Moore County emergency worker Edward Chadwick testified that Robert Stewart was at the highest level of alertness – even too calm – when he examined him.

"I've picked up many gunshot victims who've been calm like that, but it just seemed like a big situation," Chadwick said.