'Today Show' Interviews Hero Cop
Carthage Police Corporal Justin Garner was hailed as a hero on national TV Monday. The Today Show's Matt Lauer interviewed Garner and Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie, expressing amazement at Garner's story.
Garner was the only officer on duty that calm Sunday morning when, according to the chief, most people in Carthage are in church.
Garner told Lauer he'd thought it was only a misunderstanding when the call came in reporting shots fired at a nursing home.
"They said 'shots fired at the building' and I thought 'target shooting' nearby," Garner said. "I saw a car that had been shot up. That's when I realized there was something serious going on."
Lauer seemed obviously impressed as he quizzed Garner about that morning, his search down hallways at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation never knowing when he might come face to face with a crazed gunman.
At the time, Garner had no way to know Robert Stewart was the man allegedly going from room to room and hall to hall killing elderly men and women where he found them, in bed or in a wheelchair. In the end, 11 were shot and eight killed. Stewart is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh, charged with eight counts of first degree murder.
"I was very scared," Garner said. "Very scared."
He described opening doors, he told Lauer, going down hallways. The show played a clip from his chief's Carthage press conference of the week before.
"I don't know if he will ever know how many lives he saved," McKenzie had said. "If that's not heroic, I don't know what is."
The chief told Lauer all Carthage officers are trained to respond just as Garner did, but nobody can know how they will act until such a time comes, which he hopes never will again.
Stewart came at Garner out of another hallway, he told Lauer, reloading the shotgun he carried. On the table before Lauer and his guests stood examples of the kind of shotgun shells Stewart allegedly used.
Garner told the gunman to put his weapon down, not once but three times. That wasn't what happened,
"I instructed him to put the gun down three times," Garner said. "He did the opposite. He fired. He managed to get one shot off, but I never heard it."
The blast put three pellets into the policeman, two in his lower leg and one in his foot. He is expected to recover fully and return to duty soon, McKenzie said last week. Garner fired one shot from his sidearm, and the business was done. It was clear from the amount of ammunition the shooter had brought with him that he was prepared to keep killing if Garner had not stopped him, the chief said.
"The loss of life would have been a got greater," McKenzie said. "Justin saved an unknown number of lives. We may never know how many, but it certainly saved an unknown number of lives. He was reloading. Certainly, had Justin not done what he did the loss of life would have been far greater."
This sort of event is his worst fear, McKenzie told Lauer.
"Multiple people being killed for an unknown reason," he said. "Sure, you try to teach our officers to do (what Garner did) -- but you never know until it happens how anyone will act."
Garner said it didn't hit him right away that he'd saved lives.
"Only later on," Garner said. "That night, when I was getting ready to go to bed."
His hometown of Robbins, as well as Carthage, have overwhelmed Garner with support as have others.
"I got a lot of support from the town," he said. "A lot of support from family, friends."
Lauer looked over at McKenzie where he sat next to his corporal, both in full uniform as police officers of the town of Carthage.
"Good training," he told the chief.
Back home, people at the town hall couldn't take their eyes off the TV set. Town Manager Carol Sparks had high praise for both policemen.
"I am very, very proud of both of them," she said. "People have a lot of misconceptions about the South, about small towns. Some are that small town police only want to sit and give speeding tickets."
Carthage spends a lot of money making sure its officers are well trained and well equipped.
"They are training all the time," she said. "All of them are trained, ready if they have to. They would all have responded the way Justin did."
NBC called last week with the invitation, according to Sparks. A network representative would be coming to Carthage to make arrangements.
"I heard last Thursday that they were going to be there, that somebody would be here Friday from the network," she said. "They were flying Justin and his wife up Saturday. I understand they were going to take him out to dinner and show them New York. They are flying back today (Monday). Justin had never flown before. He came in Friday and I talked to him."
The chief stayed behind so he and his wife could take part in a memorial and healing service Saturday night.
"Chris and Allison flew up on Sunday," Sparks said. "I am just so proud of both of them, and proud of the town of Carthage."
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