Alleged gunman’s wife worked at nursing home, police say

Robert Stewart faces eight counts of first-degree murder in the nursing home shootings.
A man accused of killing eight people in a shooting spree at a North Carolina nursing home is the husband of a woman who worked there, police said Monday.

The two may have been separated, said Carthage, North Carolina, Police Chief Chris McKenzie. He did not say if the wife was in the building at the time. The alleged gunman, Robert Stewart, was carrying several weapons, authorities said. Seven patients and a nurse were killed, and three people were wounded, including a visitor and a police officer. All the wounded are expected to survive, McKenzie said. Officer Justin Garner was shot in the leg, McKenzie said. “As I understand, there were three pellets in his shin, leg and foot,” he said. Garner entered the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center alone with no backup and brought the shooting spree to an end with a single shot, hitting Stewart in the “chest, upper torso area,” McKenzie said. “If that’s not heroism, I don’t know what is,” he said.

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Garner is “in very good spirits, resting at home,” he added. McKenzie said he did not know the latest on Stewart’s condition. The alleged gunman’s motive remained a mystery. Stewart has not made a public statement nor has an attorney on his behalf. His wife has not issued a statement either. Meanwhile, his ex-wife, Sue Griffin, told CNN affiliate WTVD-TV in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, “He did have some violent tendencies from time to time.” She added that when she heard the news of Sunday’s shooting, “I couldn’t believe it — then I stopped, thought about it and thought, ‘It is possible. It’s possible.’ ” At a news conference Monday, McKenzie described the shooting spree as “unimaginable” and “horrific.” “Everything that you can possibly imagine that is bad in the world,” he said. “This doesn’t happen, but it did.” He described the small town as “strong, faith-based — and that faith will get this community through this.” The tragedy draws attention to what McKenzie called the toughest part of training police officers. Officers are told not to wait for backup when there are many lives on the line, he said. “That’s the hardest thing — to try to convince them you can’t wait, you have to go.” If Garner had waited for backup, “there would have been a lot more people [killed],” McKenzie said. The slain patients ranged in age from 78 to 98, Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said. A witness told CNN affiliate WRAL-TV in Raleigh-Durham that Stewart was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and other weapons. Jerry Avant Sr. told WRAL that his son, Jerry Avant, a 39-year-old registered nurse, was the employee who was killed in the shooting. He said a doctor told him that his son had been shot more than two dozen times. The elder Avant said the doctor told him his son “undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.” Watch dad praise his son’s bravery »

Stewart faces eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony assault on a police officer, and other charges are pending, Krueger said. Carthage is about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh. See map showing Carthage and Raleigh »