03/29/2009

Gunman kills seven in N.C. nursing home, wounds one officer before being shot and apprehended

By Tom Foreman Jr. and Kevin Maurer
Associated Press

CARTHAGE, N.C. — A gunman burst into a North Carolina nursing home Sunday morning and started "shooting everything," killing seven residents and a nurse and wounding at least three others.

Robert Stewart, 45, of Moore County, was charged hours later with eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer. Authorities offered few other details, allowing only that Stewart was not a patient or an employee at the nursing home, and isn't believe to be related to any of the victims.

"It's a horrible event in any size town, particularly, though, when you deal with a small town such as Carthage," said Police Chief Chris McKenzie. "It's hard. This is my home, my small town. I was born and raised here so, yeah, I take it to heart a little bit. All you can do is move forward."

Authorities said Stewart began his rampage around 10 a.m. at Pinelake Health and Rehab, a nursing home in the North Carolina Sandhills about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh. A police officer, 25-year-old Justin Garner, was also wounded before Stewart was shot and apprehended.

Sen. Harris Blake, a Moore County Republican, said six people were killed at the scene and two died later at a hospital in nearby Pinehurst. He said sheriff's officials told him that Stewart "comes in and just starts shooting everything around."

The victims were identified as residents Tessie Garner, 88; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jessie Musser, 88; Bessie Hendrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; Louise Decker, 98; and nurse Jerry Avent, whose age wasn't immediately available.

Gretchen Kelly, a spokeswoman at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in nearby Pinehurst, said six people were brought to the hospital from the nursing home. Two died, two were discharged and two were still being treated. She wouldn't release further details on the injuries or conditions of those hospitalized.

Late Sunday afternoon, authorities appeared to be conducting a search of the nursing home's parking lot, which they had blocked off with yellow police tape. Among the items they found was a camouflaged-colored rifle or shotgun, which was leaning against the side of a Jeep Cherokee.

The road leading to the home was filled with parked cars, both of police and relatives of those living at Pinelake. Howard McMillian, of Lakeview, said he raced to the scene as soon as he heard about the shooting. His 56-year-old sister lives at the nursing home, and McMillian said his brother had gotten a call from officials saying she was unharmed.

"I know she's real nervous," McMillian said. "I just want to make sure she's OK."

A nursing home Web site said the facility that opened in 1993 has 110 beds, including 20 for those with Alzheimer's disease.

Carthage is a small town of roughly 1,800 people in the North Carolina Sandhills, an area popular among retirees and home to several noted golf courses, including the famed Pinehurst resort and its No. 2 course that regularly hosts the U.S. Open.

Pinelake Health and Rehab was last inspected in May, and the review resulted in an overall five-star _ or "much above average" _ rating from federal Medicaid officials.

Associated Press Writer Erin Gartner contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press

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