On March 29, 2009, gunman Robert Stewart entered Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina, shooting and killing 8 people. He had intended to shoot his estranged wife who was a nurse at the nursing home, but she was able to hide and survived.
He was shot during the ordeal but apprehended by a police officer, who was wounded by his gunfire. Both the gunman and the police officer survived their wounds.
Stewart was tried in 2011 for his crimes and convicted on 8 counts of second degree murder, instead of the first degree murder charges he was initially faced with. He was sentenced to a total of 179 years, 4 months and 20 days.
Robert Stewart was born on September 12, 1963. His father was a house painter and his mother worked in an office. He attended Pinecrest High School, but dropped out before graduating. He had a reputation with peers as a quiet loner who tended to have a temper at times.
Stewart married his first in a long string of wives at the age of 18 in 1981. This marriage lasted only a few months. In 1983, he married a 17-year-old girl named Wanda Neal, but within 3 years, that marriage failed, as well. He was extremely possessive, drank excessively and had a violent temper. Wanda's mother described his rage as "exploding over everything" saying that he could be totally fine, and set off by something in an instant.
In 1986, Stewart married a 3rd wife named Sue Griffin. However, he never quite got over Wanda. According to Sue, Stewart compared her to Wanda often, complaining that certain things she did were not what Wanda would have done.
During his marriage to Sue, Stewart worked as a house painter with his own painting business, which twice filed for bankruptcy. Before the shooting, he had been out of work for over a year following an injury. In 1995, he joined the Clay Road Farm Hunt Club, but was soon unwelcome by other members due to his alcoholism and temper. Upon threatening one of the founders, he was thrown out.
In 2001, he had been married to Sue for 15 years. Despite this, he left her and returned to Wanda. He promised her that he would change. He promised to stop drinking, and promised to treat her well. Against her better judgement, and likely against the protests of her mother, they remarried in 2002.
But, it was the same old story. He continued to be extremely possessive, refusing to let Wanda go anywhere alone. During an argument, he put his gun to her head and threatened to kill her. After this, she left him and returned to live with her parents. This was only 3 weeks before the shooting, so it is unclear if the abuse began immediately after their remarriage in 2002, or somewhere in the following 7 years.
After she left, he began to spiral. He would call his wife's family at 3 in the morning, frantically claiming he had an emergency and she needed to come. He also tried to get in contact with his previous wife, Sue, telling her family that he had prostate cancer and would be dying soon.
The week before the shooting, he was depressed and felt like his life had "gone to hell".
Following the fallout with his wife and spiraling depression, on March 29, 2009, 45-year-old Robert Steward arrived in the parking lot of the nursing home where his wife worked. Just before 10 AM, he fired shots into his wife's car, shattering the windows. Next, he shot at a visitor named Michael Lee Cotten, hitting him in the shoulder. Later, Cotten said that Stewart was "very calm, very deliberate" at that point. Around this time, police were alerted. The only officer on duty, Cpl. Justin Garner, came to the scene.
Stewart entered the nursing home with 3 different guns. He went down the hallway, searching for Wanda. She had heard the shooting from the parking lot, and she hid in a locked passcode-protected bathroom, not knowing at the time that she was the target of the rampage.
Wanda's routine was different that morning: She was in the Alzheimer's unit, which is not where she normally worked. Upon realizing that, he headed toward the Alzheimer's patients. Though the unit was passcode protected, he walked through the hallways taking victims. He shot seven residents, 2 in wheelchairs, while working toward his wife. One nurse, who attempted to stop the barrage, was shot and killed.
Cpl. Garner confronted Stewart in the hallway of the nursing home at about 10:05, only 5 minutes after the original shots in the parking lot. Stewart shot him in the leg, but Garner shot him in the chest. Garner recalled that when he approached the wounded Stewart, he was saying "kill me, kill me."
In total, 8 people died: 7 residents and 1 nurse. Their names were the following:
Jerry Avant Jr., 39 (nurse)
Louise DeKler, 98
Lillian Dunn, 89
Tessie Garner, 75
John Walter Goldston, 78
Bessie Hedrick, 78
Margaret Johnson, 89
Jesse Vernon Musser, 88
Stewart was charged with 8 counts of first degree murder, but was convicted on September 3, 2011 of the lesser charge of 8 counts of second degree murder. He received the maximum sentence for each murder to run consecutively, with a grand total of 179 years, 4 months and 20 days.
Though his defense attorneys argued that he was under the influence of Ambien during the shootings, experts confirmed that he was in charge of his actions, having planned the shooting before.
This is the second article this month I have written about a garbage husband who went to the workplace of his estranged wife with the intent to kill her out of rage, and one of countless similar events that have happened. These men, however, took their rage so much further. In both cases, they didn't kill their wives. Their wives were able to escape the carnage and instead, bodies of innocent people were left behind. In this case, the lives of a heroic nurse and 7 completely innocent elderly nursing home residents were left behind because some abusive man was mad at his wife.
The families of these victims knew their loved one was sick and could soon die. But they certainly did not think they would die like that. One of the victims was 98 years old. She was 2 years away from turning 100 years old - living through so much in her long life filled with love... All to come up 2 years short because someone didn't know how to channel their anger.
Today, especially given the rise in domestic violence due to the social distancing initiative as a result of COVID-19, I will remember all of the women (and men) who have died as a result of intimate partner violence, but also the innocent people who have died for simply being too close to the victim. And I will remember the brave, heroic nurse and the 7 residents who lost their lives senselessly 11 years ago today.