Simple Service Remembers Pinelake Victims
Beneath a great white tent set up on the grassy lawn of Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage, hundreds came to a memorial service Sunday afternoon.
There, surrounded by flowers, eight large framed photographs showed the faces of seven residents and one nurse who died on a violent Sunday morning three weeks ago.
A simple program listed the order of service, but the only names to be found in it were those of the deceased.
Pinelake residents Lillian Dunn, 89; Tessie Garner, 75; John Goldston, 78; Bessie Hedrick, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; Louise De Kler, 98; and Jesse Musser, 88; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39, died Sunday morning, March 29, when a lone gunman went on a murderous rampage through the center.
The accused killer, Robert Stewart, is in Central Prison. The Moore County grand jury indicted on eight counts of murder, two of attempted murder, assault on a police officer and other charges.
While there had been other services across the county -- community services and funerals -- the nursing home itself wanted to hold a special service of remembrance to which the staff invited families of the victims as honored guests.
So many were expected that Pinelake made arrangements for shuttles to bring people from a parking area near the county agricultural building. Volunteers assisted with seating as musicians set the mood with spirituals and hymns. Danny and June Infantino, on Spanish guitar and flute, offered instrumental melodies as seats filled beneath the large white canopy.
Sheriff Lane Carter, District Attorney Maureen Krueger, Carthage Mayor Ronnie Fields and town commissioners, emergency service workers and other officials joined neighbors, Pinelake staff, and others to remember the eight and to pay tribute to those who responded that day and came to help. All stood as family members were escorted to reserved seating at the front.
Gov. Beverly Perdue came, making a special trip to join state Sen. Harris Blake, state Rep. Jamie Boles and other officials for the ceremony. She did not speak, but came to represent the love of all North Carolinians.
A special award was to be presented to Carthage police Cpl. Justin Garner, who is credited with saving many lives at the risk of his own when he stopped the killing after facing Stewart in a hallway gun battle that left both men wounded.
The simple service began as a soft rain was falling and ended in sunshine with a reception and meal served by the Pinelake kitchen for all attending.
The familiar strains of "Amazing Grace" sung by Brian Rainbow were followed by scripture readings from New and Old Testaments.
Eugene Ussery followed, reading the 23rd Psalm, after which Carthage Police Chaplain Tom Herndon offered an opening prayer.
"Today is the day that we have returned to the place where we all have suffered," Herndon said. "I thank you especially Lord, for walking that day each step of the way with Officer Justin Garner and how you spared his life in order to save other lives. Each one present today has returned here to this place to tell the world that even though we are still hurting -- we have not been defeated."
He gave thanks "for all the ministers, counselors, mental health people, and for the law enforcement personnel" who helped that day and since.
Pinelake Director Bernard Bryant thanked all who offered support.
"The outpouring of love and comfort was nothing less than miraculous," Bryant said. "I would like to bring to the stage someone who showed throughout absolute, amazing bravery. I would like to present a plaque to officer Justin Garner."
Applause welcomed Garner to the platform where one of the residents, Bill Stutts, himself a former Robbins police officer, presented the award.
"It has been my honor and privilege today to meet this young man for the first time," Stutts said. "I knew his family, but he is one fine specimen. I'll say one thing: You have to have lived in that position to appreciate this man. He stood up for us. Some of us wouldn't have been here today if it hadn't have been for him."
Garner, who had been sitting with his wife, Stephanie, and the governor beside the stage, came up to shake Stutts' hand and accept the plaque.
"Justin, we want you to accept this with our gracious love," Stutts said. "We love you and thank you, son."
As a song of inspiration, Annette McGraw sang "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and David Hicks, who has served as chaplain to Pinelake, spoke, using as his text the words from the Fourth Gospel, that "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Avant is credited with saving many lives that day as the nurse, along with other staff, shepherded residents to places of safety before being gunned down himself.
In a letter, Frances Green, Avant's sister, thanked the staff for the outpouring of thoughtfulness during their time of loss. Green sat at the end of the front row holding hands with Jill DeGarmo, her brother's fianc.
"Jerry Lee -- as the family called him -- was a great loss to your facility as well, not just in losing a co-worker, but a friend," she had written. "Jerry Lee was -- and is -- the epitome of selflessness and bravery. He certainly tried to work as your guardian and protector. Jerry Lee did what he did because it was part of his character and who he was. He was then, and always will be, an inspiration to many others, and me. I am Frances Green, LPN, (licensed practical nurse) and am honored to share the same title LPN along with Jerry Lee and many others. At a time like this there is sadness and sorrow that no one could ever be prepared for. We don't understand why things like this happen, but I know that Jerry walked with God, and God walked with him, on that day. I try not to dwell on the loss we suffered. Instead, I know that his heroism will always be remembered "
A single stroke of a bell rang out as each of the eight names was spoken. Then bagpiper Tim Cole sounded the three drones of his pipe and began to play "Going Home" on the chanters.
As Cole strolled away down the hill toward the lake, the sound faded, and a gospel choir began the old spiritual "Precious Lord, take my hand" with a mournful solo voice.
As the chorus joined, the tempo picked up and the sense of it all changed to certainty and triumph, "lead me on, to the Light."
Pinelake had set out tables beneath a second tent where the staff laid out a full meal, and all present were invited.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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