Dramatic 911 calls in nursing home attack
MOORE COUNTY -- Chilling 911 calls were released Monday of people calling for help as a gunman allegedly killed eight people at a nursing home in Carthage Sunday morning.
One woman told the operator "somebody's up here shooting at the nursing home." Seconds later, a police officer asks for every available law enforcement officer in the area to respond.
Meanwhile Monday, Moore County Sheriff's Deputies responded to the house where Robert Stewart lived 8 years ago. The address on Lamms Grove Road is the same address listed for the RKS painting company Stewart owned.
The Snipes family, who is living there now, says they are being threatened.
"Today I started receiving threatening phone calls, people saying Robert Stewart stays here and people are out to retaliate against his family for what he's done," concerned resident Doris Snipes said.
She says she is concerned for her family knowing Stewart is accused of leaving several families devastated in Sunday's shooting rampage.
The DA has confirmed to Eyewitness News that Stewart had an initial court appearance Monday morning. His first appearance will be April 13. The DA also confirms that Stewart has been assigned two capital defenders, but will not comment on whether that means she will pursue the death penalty.
Also on Monday, after promising more details about the shooting at a 3 p.m. news conference, police did an abrupt about face and held a briefing that lasted just a few minutes and released little new information.
Police Chief Chris McKenzie faced the cameras just long enough to say that the hero officer credited with stopping the attack has decided not to give interviews about what happened for now.
Earlier Monday, the chief refused to say what type - or how many - weapons were used by the alleged 45-year-old gunman Robert Stewart. He did say Officer Justin Garner was wounded by three shotgun pellets while trading gunfire with Stewart.
McKenzie also said Stewart may have gone to the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation to look for his estranged wife Wanda Luck. The pair have been separated for about three weeks, and Luck is a certified nurse assistant who worked at the nursing home. Family members told Eyewitness News that the woman was at the facility, and that she was able to barricade herself in a room when Stewart arrived. Police have not confirmed that.
Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger refused to speculate about the possible motive at Monday afternoon's news conference. She told reporters only that it was not a random act of violence and that there is only one suspect who is in custody.
At the morning news conference, the Chief said Stewart was shot in the upper chest, but did not have his condition or where he is currently. Court records said Stewart was transferred from the custody of Moore County to the state Department of Correction in Raleigh because he has a gunshot wound. He is not scheduled to appear in court until next week.
McKenzie told reporters that the Carthage community is relying on its faith to get through a difficult time. A series of public forums are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursdays throughout the month of April in Carthage for residents and nursing home survivors who want counseling and more information about how to cope with the tragedy.
The Chief also praised Officer Garner going into the nursing home to confront Stewart and for shooting him in a hallway.
"If that's not heroism, I don't know what is," he said.
Stewart's ex talks
While Stewart's estranged wife is not commenting on what happened, ex-wife Sue Griffin spoke to Eyewitness News.
Griffin and Stewart divorced in 2001 after 15 years of marriage. She said she was stunned by the news of the shooting.
"I couldn't believe it, then, I stopped thought about it, and thought it is possible. It's possible," she said.
Griffin said during her marriage to Stewart, she saw heavy drinking and reclusive behavior.
"He did have some violent tendencies from time to time," she recalled.
It was around 10 a.m. Sunday when gunfire rang out at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. The little town is about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh. When it was over, eight were dead and three wounded.
Families said many of the victims were in wheelchairs or bedridden. Helen Olive, 65, said she was walking back to her room when she heard the first gunshots. She believes had she not gotten out of the gunman's way, she too would have been a victim.
"I said 'Oh my God there ain't supposed to be any gun in here,' and went into my room. I got down behind my bed pulled the phone down on the floor called 911 and I told them. They said stay down we are on our way, so I crawled into the bathroom and got behind the shower curtain and shut the doors. I was so scared," she recalled.
Carthage police were the first to respond when the shooting started. The tiny department has just 18 officers and only one was on duty Sunday morning. Officer Garner encountered Stewart inside the facility. The two exchanged gunfire and Stewart was wounded in the upper chest. Officer Garner was wounded in the leg. Chief McKenzie said Monday morning that the former department Officer of the Year is home resting comfortably and is in good spirits.
"A lot more lives would have been lost if he had not done what he did," said the Chief.
"We had a well trained officer who performed his job the way he was supposed to and prevented the situation from becoming much worse," offered Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger at a news conference on Sunday.
Stewart will be charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Tessie Garner, 75, Lillian Dunn, 89, Jesse Musser, 88, Bessie Hedrick, 78, John Goldston, 78, Margaret Johnson, 89, Louise DeKler, 98, and 39-year-old Jerry Avant who was a caregiver at the facility.
Avant's father spoke with Eyewitness News Sunday afternoon. He said the he was hit 27 times by bullets and there was nothing doctors could do to save him.
"He said they tried their best cause he's young, he was 39 and in good health. But they just - I guess a lot of internal bleeding," said Avant.
Avant said his son had dreams of being a nurse.
"He just passed all his tests and everything to become and RN and he really loved nursing and he was a good person. Never gave me a bit of trouble," he said.
A third person injured - 53-year-old Michael Cotten - who was visiting the center was also taken to the hospital. Police did not know his condition.
A crisis intervention team was set up at the Carthage Baptist Church for family of the dead to help them deal with the tragedy.
Beverly McNeill said her mother, Pinelake resident Ellery Chishole, called moments after the gunman stormed into her room and pointed his "deer gun" at her roommate. "They're up here shooting, they're up here shooting," she frantically told her 14-year-old granddaughter, Tavia, over the phone.
Chishole told her daughter she hid her face in her shirt so she couldn't see the man or what she expected him to do, McNeill said. He didn't shoot, but left the room and began shooting down the hallway.
Musser had lived at Pinelake for only six weeks, said his son-in-law, Jim Foster, 47, of Aberdeen. He said the man had Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and was blind, deaf and confined to a wheelchair. Foster said the family was now trying to figure out how to tell Musser's wife, who has dementia and lives at the same facility, that her husband is dead.
"She was upset that they didn't bring him to see her yesterday," Foster said. "I don't know how we're going to break it to her. You got a clue?"
Stewart does not have an extensive criminal background. His only arrest is a DWI in 1988. Public records show he owns a painting business in Carthage called RKS. Painting. He does not have a concealed weapons permit, but he does have hunting permits. Associated Press photos taken at the scene showed officers picking up a hunting rifle.
Sue Griffin said Stewart had been recently reaching out to family members, telling them he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to "go away."
Word of the bloody shooting has made headlines all over the world. Moore County officials say they've gotten emails from the four corners of the earth voicing support and offering help.
Governor Beverly Perdue issued a statement Sunday afternoon.
“This is a tragedy that’s hard to understand. 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,” she said.
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