Relatives recall horror of attack

April 1, 2009 7:45:19 PM PDT
It's been a couple of days, but the shock of what happened Sunday at a Carthage nursing home is still raw for family members.Robert Stewart, 45, is accused of killing seven elderly residents and a nurse at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation center before he was wounded by Carthage police officer Justin Garner.

Lillian Dun, 89, was one of the victims.

"She had just seen her great grandmother for the first time last week," said granddaughter Robin Dunn.

Dunn's family said she loved all her children, and they loved her chocolate pies.

"Oh they were delicious! Yeah. We would beg her to cook them for us. She was so good. They were very good chocolate pies," offered Robin.

Other families who lost loved ones in the attack are beginning to pick up their possessions at the nursing home.

Frank Feola spoke about his mother-in-law Louise De Kler. The 98-year-old came to America from Holland when she was just 17.

"She lived through everything you could imagine. And I still have trouble, difficulty, major difficulty imagining that the last moments of her life was looking down the barrel of a gun," said Feola.

Tommy Salmon says he'll never forget Sunday's visit to see his 91-year-old mother Lena Salmon. He arrived at the complex just after 10 Sunday morning.

"There were a couple of police cars sitting there. So I walked on in the door and when I went in the door there was a lady sitting there in a wheelchair. I said she's dead. She's been shot," he recalled.

Salmon had arrived shortly after Officer Justin Garner wounded the suspected shooter. Salmon says it would be several hours before he knew if his mother was okay. He bumped into a nursing home employee at a church who told him how his mother survived.

"I asked him did he know anything about my mother and he said yeah. He said I was, had her in a hall and I shoved her in a TV room, closed the door and run out and got some other patients in their rooms and said she's okay," Salmon said.

Ironically, Salmon knows the alleged shooter. He says he sold Stewart a car 20 years ago. He says he was a good customer and can't explain why he would do it.

Other family members have similar horror stories. Georgia Michael told Eyewitness News a privacy curtain separated her mother from certain death when Stewart walked into her mother's room and shot her roommate.

"Thank God the curtain was pulled all the way around her, and she was curled up in a fetal position, so thankfully that curtain was pulled," she said.

Town reacts

Meanwhile, many in the town are angry. They don't understand how someone could target the most vulnerable - elderly loved ones who had no way to defend themselves.

"I think whatever becomes of this guy, what they do to him, will be fine with me and other people," offered resident Steve King.

In the shops on Carthage's main street, people struggle to come to terms with what happened.

"Trying to understand how someone could hurt innocent defenseless people," explained business owner Patty Boyette.

Some like Doris Gregory worry her small town's serenity and peacefulness is forever gone.

"I think something like this happening, there is going to be more security, people checking you when you come in," she said.

Others say the town will heal as residents and families comfort each other.

"They are hugging and everyone is saying you know 'God bless you' and everything. Everybody is praying for each other, just thankful for what we have," said Michael.

Officials are trying to help residents cope. Special counseling sessions will be held every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. during the month of April at the Carthage First Baptist Church.

Pinelake Health & Rehab says it has received an outpouring of support from people around the world in response to the. While the center's staff and residents are truly grateful for this support, they say the amount of flowers being delivered to the home is overwhelming.

In lieu of flowers, the N.C. Health Care Facilities Association has created the Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund to help the victims and their families. Donations can be dropped off at any Capital Bank branch or mailed to:

Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund
North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association
5109 Bur Oak Circle
Raleigh, NC 27612


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