March 30, 2009 -- North Carolina police are investigating whether the man accused of killing eight people in a nursing home shooting spree may have targeted the home because his estranged wife worked there, according to The Associated Press.
At 10 a.m. Sunday morning, while many residents of Carthage, N.C., were sitting quietly in church, police said 45-year-old Robert Stewart entered a local nursing home armed with multiple guns. Stalking from room to room, he shot several residents, even those bound to wheelchairs.
By the time the only on-duty officer for the Carthage Police Department arrived at the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center and put a stop to the massacre, seven nursing home patients and one nursing home employee had died.
"He came in with a shotgun, a rifle and a couple other kinds of weapons and he just went around shooting people, people in wheelchairs and this type of thing," Sen. Harris Blake of the North Carolina State Assembly said. "This could not be any more barbaric."
While "information on motive is incomplete," Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said in an afternoon press conference, the attack "was not a random act of violence."
Hero Cop Only One On Duty
The lone officer, 25-year-old Justin Garner, has been praised as a hero and did "exactly what he was trained to do," Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said at a press conference today.
McKenzie, who said he couldn't recall the last time the town of about 1,800 had a murder, told reporters it is standard procedure for an officer to go in without backup for some emergency situations "where multiple lives are at stake."
Garner hit the suspect with the only round he fired, McKenzie said, and was shot himself by several "pellets," possibly from a shotgun. Within minutes, other officers responded to assist Garner, but the policeman had already shot Stewart.
Garner was "born and raised" in the area, McKenzie said.
"He acted nothing short of a heroic day today," Krueger said Sunday. McKenzie told "GMA" the officer's impact on saving lives that day was "immeasurable."
"There is obviously going to be some well-deserved accolades," McKenzie said in an afternoon press conference.
While police have not released a possible motive, their investigation revealed that Stewart's estranged wife works at the home.
McKenzie told the AP that he believed that the couple were recently separated but that he did not have any other details. He was not sure if the woman was at the nursing home at the time of the shootings.
"We're certainly looking into the fact that it may be domestic-related," McKenzie told the AP.
Nursing Home Gunman Was 'Calm' and 'Deliberate'
Michael Cotten, who was at the nursing home visiting his aunt Sunday, said he was pulling up in the driveway when all of the sudden he had to duck for cover.
"He was very calm had a very calm demeanor very deliberate," Cotton said. "He just leveled the gun and pointed it at my truck."
Among the dead are Jerry Avent, a nurse at the center and seven Pinelake residents: Tessie Garner, 88; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jessie Musser, 88; Bessie Hendrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89 and Louise Decker, 98.
Avent's father called his son a "good boy" who "really loved nursing."
McKenzie said that in his nearly 20 years in law enforcement, he had never seen an incident like this.
"It's a horrible event, in any size town, particularly though when you deal with a small town such as Carthage," McKenzie said Sunday. "It's hard. This is my town, I was born and raised here, so yeah, I take it to heart a little, bit but … all you can do is move forward."
The town of Carthage has a population of about 1,800 people and a police force consisting of 18 officers. The Police Department generally only has one officer on duty on Sundays.
"This is a small community built on faith, and faith will get us through," McKenzie said.
The shooter face eight counts of first degree murder and a charge of felony assault on a law enforcement officer, Moore County District Attorney Maureen Kruger said.
Cars belonging to police and relatives of the nursing home filled the road near the home.
Howard McMillian, of Lakeview, N.C., said he raced to the scene because his 56-year-old sister lives at the home. He said his brother had gotten calls from officials saying the woman was unharmed.
"I know she's nervous," he said. "I just want to make sure she's OK."
With reports from The Associated Press.