Shooting Aftermath: Tears, Prayers, Questions
Three days after Robert Stewart's bloody rampage at a Carthage nursing home Sunday morning, authorities are focusing on what set off the lone gunman.
Stewart, 45, who lives near Carthage, has been identified as the man who walked into Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation about 10 a.m. armed with multiple weapons and opened fire on patients and staff. Eight people were killed -- seven elderly patients, ranging in ages from 78 to 98, and one nurse.
Carthage police officer Justin Garner shot Stewart in a back hallway and ended the massacre. Three others were injured, including Garner.
Authorities are still unclear on Stewart's motive, but Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said at a press conference Monday that the shootings were not a "random act of violence."
"There are things that are rarely known by direct evidence," she said. "When can one look into the heart and mind of another person and truly know what they think? The information on motive is incomplete at this time.
"But we can share this: This was not a random act of violence. There's only one suspect, and he is in custody."
Krueger said it would be "imprudent" for authorities to release additional details of the case at this time.
"It is imperative when details are released, that they're completely accurate," she said. "We don't want to jeopardize the investigation, and we certainly don't want to cause more trauma to the families."
Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said Stewart's estranged wife was employed at the nursing home, and that they "may have been separated." He could not confirm if Stewart's wife was there on Sunday or whether or not if she was a target. Authorities are investigating whether it played a role in the killings.
Those killed in the massacre have been identified as Tessie Garner, 88; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jessie Musser, 88; Bessie Hendrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; and Louise Deklar, 98.
A nurse who worked at the facility, Jerry Avant Jr., 39, was also killed. He was a 2003 graduate of Sandhills Community College's licensed practical nursing program. SCC President John Dempsey said that he has asked that the college's flags be lowered to half staff in honor of Avant. The college will also be creating a scholarship in his honor and memory.
"There really aren't any words to describe or convey what we are all feeling at this time," Dempsey said, "but lowering the flags probably says it as well as it can be said."
Garner was treated at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and discharged. Michael Cotten, 53, a visitor at the nursing home, was also injured and transported to Moore Regional Hospital. He has since been released.
Former Pilot employee Kathy Lawrence said her aunt, Myrtie Kennedy, 92, was the only one on her hallway who survived the attacks. Lawrence said Kennedy, who is wheelchair bound, was able to close her door once the shooting began and push a chair with her feet in front of it and hold it in place. Stewart attempted to enter the room, but was unsuccessful.
"She talked about how terrible it was," she said. "I'm just grateful she survived. It can happen anywhere, anytime."
Pinelake, on Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage next to the Moore County Office Park, is a 110-bed facility that specializes in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
Stewart made his "initial appearance" -- a legal term for facing a judge who explains charges, maximum possible punishment if convicted and rights to legal representation -- Monday morning before Judge Jayrene Maness in the sally port of the Moore County Courthouse.
Krueger charged Stewart with eight counts of first-degree murder, and he is being held under no bond.
Sheriff Carter Lane said that his officers escorted Stewart to Central Prison in Raleigh at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Judge James Webb had signed an order of transfer based on medical and safekeeping reasons.
Stewart signed an affidavit of indigency describing his employment as "disabled" and asked for court-appointed counsel. The affidavit says he owns one motor vehicle, an "'87 Chevy Blazer" according to the document filed with the court. Maness found Stewart indigent and ordered that he be provided court-appointed attorneys.
Robert M. Hurley, of the state Office of Indigent Services, appointed two Asheboro attorneys, John Megerian and Frank Wells, to defend Stewart.
'Oh God, He Is Coming'
Moore County's 911 center starting receiving frantic calls from patients and staff shortly after Stewart began his rampage.
"There is a man out there shooting," one woman caller exclaimed. "We saw him out front. He is a white man with a long shotgun. ... We just ran with some residents. Please get here. ... Oh God. He's coming. Oh God, he is coming. Be quiet (she tells others with her). Hurry, hurry, please hurry to the rest home. They're close. Oh God!"
Stewart allegedly roamed through the facility, randomly shooting victims in wheelchairs and attempting to enter residents' rooms.
Once Garner shot Stewart in a back hallway, Carthage police asked that every available officer in the county respond to help secure the scene. Officers blocked off Pinehurst Avenue for much of the day.
Officers were all over the facility talking to employees and patients throughout the day. Employees and some residents could be seen sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch at the main entrance as officers went in and out of the building.
At about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, after Pinehurst Avenue was reopened, three vehicles being towed away from the facility -- a blue Chrysler PT Cruiser, a black Jeep Cherokee and a red pick-up truck. Several windows on the PT Cruiser appeared to have been shot out by gunfire. Police have not confirmed who owned the vehicles, though it is believed that the pickup truck was Cotton's
Law enforcement officers also carried what appeared to be a rifle and a shotgun to one of their cars.
Garner is being hailed as a hero, single-handedly putting an end to gunman Robert Stewart's rampage Sunday at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Garner was out on a routine patrol and entered the facility alone, McKenzie said during a news conference Monday. Garner shot Stewart in the upper chest with his department-issued .40-caliber Glock pistol, and in turn received three pellet wounds, presumably from a shotgun, to the left foot and calf.
McKenzie praised the efforts of Garner in stopping Stewart's rampage Monday, calling what he did "heroic." By storming into the building alone and hunting down the killer, McKenzie believes he prevented the loss of more lives.
"I'm unbelievably proud, not only to be his police chief, but to be a fellow officer," he said. "Whether or not he realizes it now, he will hopefully someday realize how many lives he actually saved."
Garner, 25, is a decorated four-year veteran of the Carthage Police Department. He has previously received the department's "Officer of the Year" award.
Garner was the only officer on duty Sunday morning, usually a slow time because most people are at church. When asked by the media why Garner went into the building alone, McKenzie said there are certain situations when multiple lives are at stake where an officer is trained to do what he can to stop it, even if it means sacrificing his or her life.
"These men and women take an oath to protect lives," he said.
'Lot of Crying and Praying'
Stunned family members gathered outside of the Moore County Courthouse and at First Baptist Church next door on the windy Sunday afternoon trying to obtain more information on the tragedy. Several people could be seen crying, with looks of disbelief etched on their faces. Others pressed law enforcement officials for answers.
Judy Collins, whose brother is a patient at Pinelake but was unharmed, said that there was "a lot of crying and praying" going on.
Her daughter, Ann Holder, said she was anxious to speak to her uncle. Like so many, she couldn't make sense of what happened.
"It's just such a tragedy," she said.
Some family members of several residents of Pinelake went directly to the facility shortly after police reopened Pinehurst Avenue, hoping to see their loved ones. They were turned away and told to go to the First Baptist Church in Carthage where a crisis intervention team was set up.
Easter and Frances Butler and their husbands drove over from Troy to check on their 90-year-old mother, Ada. They heard about the shooting from another sister who lives in Salisbury.
"We were told that she is OK, and we are relieved," Easter Butler said as the four stood near the entrance of Pinelake. "We just want to get inside to see her. She needs us."
Deborah Badurina and her husband, who live in Cameron, came to check on her mother, Irene Cassey, who is 83. She said her mother has Alzheimer's disease They found out that she was OK.
"I talk to a nurse and someone checked on her," she said. "They said she is OK. I just want to talk to her."
Badurina said she has no plans to move her mother to another nursing home. Her father, who died in June from Parkinson's disease, was also a resident at Pinelake.
"I am very high on this place," she said. "She's been here a year. They are very heavily staffed. It is a good place."
Peggy Dowd and members of her family came to the Carthage Town Hall where a news conference was taking place at the Fire Department to learn more about what happened at the nursing home. Her cousin, who suffered a stroke and is in a wheelchair, is a resident at Pinelake. She said a worker saved his life by pushing him into a room and closing the door when the shooting started.
"I just want to talk to him," she said.
Dowd said the shooting has not shaken her confidence in Pinelake. She wants to put the brother of her cousin in the facility.
"This is terrible," she said. "But this is one of those things that happens. It could have happened anywhere."
The shootings have rocked the otherwise quiet community to its core.
Foy Jean Wall was sitting in First Baptist Church Sunday morning when the pastor announced that something had occurred at Pinelake.
"I was sitting there and didn't know what to think," she said. "You're just spellbound when you hear something like that."
Wall, a lifelong resident of Carthage, and the rest of the congregation had been told that a shooting had taken place at Pinelake. She said she went home and cried after the service was over. She said she had never experienced anything like this.
"I'll soon be 78 years old," she said, "and I've never heard of anything like that happening around here. This is just devastating.
"I've been through some hard times and I've seen sad times, but this is just devastating."
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue extended her condolences to the victims Sunday.
"This is a tragedy that's hard to understand," she said. "The friends and relatives of the victims have our deepest sympathy and will be in the hearts and prayers of all of us across North Carolina."
Krueger said at the Monday afternoon press briefing there has been an outpouring of support from across the country.
"We have received e-mails, messages, phone calls collectively throughout the United States," she said, "from people who are sending their support, their prayers, and their sympathy, offers of help and assistance. And to those people, we especially say thank you and we know today that those people are all members of our small town here in Carthage."
A memorial service has been scheduled for Thursday, with time and location to be determined.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Staff Writer John Chappell contributed to this article.
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