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7 residents, nurse killed in nursing home rampage

CARTHAGE, N.C. — Ellery Chishole could only bury her face in her shirt as a man barged into her room at a North Carolina nursing home Sunday morning — hiding from what he might do, frantically telling her teenage granddaughter by phone that a man with a "deer gun" was "up here shooting, they're up here shooting."

Beverly McNeill said Chishole, her mother, was spared from the gunman's rampage without explanation. But authorities said Robert Stewart, 45, killed seven elderly residents and a nurse who cared for them, and wounded three others. The slaughter finally ended when a young police officer wounded Stewart.

By late Sunday afternoon, Stewart, 45, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer. Authorities offered few other details, saying only that Stewart was not a patient or an employee at the nursing home and isn't believed to be related to any of the victims.

"I don't know if the emotion entirely has set in," said Police Chief Chris McKenzie, a Carthage native who said nothing in his nearly 20-year law enforcement career compared to Sunday's slaughter. "It's a small community built on faith, and faith will get us through."

While authorities declined to comment on a possible motive, Stewart's ex-wife said he had been reaching out recently to family members, telling them he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to "go away."

Sue Griffin said she was married to Stewart for 15 years, and while they hadn't spoken since divorcing in 2001, he had been trying to call her during the past week through her son, mother, sister and grandmother.

"He did have some violent tendencies from time to time," Griffin said. "I wouldn't put it past him. I hate to say it, but it is true."

Authorities said Stewart began his rampage around 10 a.m. at Pinelake Health and Rehab in the North Carolina Sandhills about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh, firing shots inside and outside the home. It ended when Officer Justin Garner, 25, traded gunfire with Stewart in a hallway, wounding the suspect.

"He just comes in and just starts shooting everything around," said Sen. Harris Blake of Moore County, relating the story told by sheriff's officials.

Garner was wounded in his leg, and police said Stewart wounded two others.

The victims were identified as Pinelake 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.

7 residents, nurse killed in nursing home rampage 03/29/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 29, 2009 10:44pm]

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