March 29, 2009 -- Seven senior citizens and a nursing home employee are dead after a man walked into a facility in Carthage, N.C., this morning and opened fire, police said.
The shooting happened at 10 a.m. at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center, Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said.
The shooter, identified as 45-year-old Robert Stewart of Moore County, N.C., was shot and is now in the custody of the Moore County Sheriff's Department, authorities said at a press conference this evening. Stewart did not work at the center and authorities believe he was not related to any of the victims.
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.
A police officer also was hurt but is expected to recover.
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 at a press conference earlier this afternoon. "It's hard. This is my town, I was born and raised here, so yeah, I take it to heart a little bit but, um, 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.
"This is a small community built on faith, and faith will get us through," he later said.
'We Could Have Had a Worse Tragedy'
The shooter will 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.
Kruger praised the police officer injured during the incident, Justin Garner, 25, who suffered a gunshout wound to his leg.
"He acted in nothing short of a heroic way," she said. "But for his actions we could have had a worse tragedy."
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."
Shooting Investigation Continues
McKenzie said that Carthage police are interviewing witnesses to the shooting and receiving help with their investigation from the Moore County Sheriff's Department and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Pinelake Health and Rehab Center, about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh, N.C., is a 90-bed facility with 20 beds for Alzheimer's patients, according to the center's Web site.
With reports from The Associated Press.