CARTHAGE, N.C. — A painter accused of shooting up a North Carolina nursing home may have been after his recently estranged wife during a rampage that killed seven defenseless residents and a nurse tending to their care, authorities said Monday.
Robert Stewart's wife was working as a nursing assistant at Pinelake Health and Rehab when he attacked Sunday, not long after the two split, said Carthage police Chief Chris McKenzie. The breakup was part of a rocky relationship that spread over many years and bookended other failed marriages, according to court documents.
Authorities declined to elaborate on how their relationship may have played a role in the rampage, but the prosecutor who charged the 45-year-old suspect with murder left no doubt the attack had a purpose.
"We can share this: This was not a random act of violence," said Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
A day after the shootings, Krueger said authorities didn't plan to release much more information about Stewart — nicknamed "Pee Wee" by his hunting buddies because, one said, he's about 6-feet-2 and 300 pounds — or the case outside of the courtroom.
Several search warrants police executed in the hours after the shooting were sealed, and Krueger would not say why.
But it appeared the relationship between Stewart and his wife, identified by a neighbor as Wanda Luck, was tied in some way to the rampage.
"We're certainly looking into the fact that it may be domestic-related," McKenzie said.
According to marriage records in Moore County, a 19-year-old Stewart married 17-year-old Wanda Gay Neal in July 1983. They divorced three years later, and both were involved in several other marriages before they reunited and married a second time in June 2002.
McKenzie said he believed the couple had recently separated again.