Cops have more questions for accused NC gunman

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Associated Press Writer

CARTHAGE, N.C. (AP) ó Detectives investigating the slaying of eight people at a North Carolina nursing home have yet to complete a full interview with the suspect, a painter who remains in a prison hospital two days after the rampage.

Moore County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Neil Godfrey said Tuesday the department’s investigators are still interviewing witnesses and others to make sure they have gathered all available information. Among those they’re spoken with is the estranged wife of suspect Robert Stewart, but Godfrey declined to comment on what she told detectives or her state of mind.

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The two had recently split and court documents show the breakup was part of an on-again, off-again relationship that spread over many years and bookended other failed marriages. Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie has said authorities were looking at the possibility the Sunday shooting spree at Pinelake Health and Rehab was “domestic-related.”

But on Tuesday, following the lead of Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger, Godfrey refused to discuss the possible reasons investigators believe Stewart ó nicknamed “Pee Wee” by his hunting buddies because, one said, he’s about 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds ó attacked the nursing home and Alzheimer’s disease care center.

“It would simply be speculation on the motive,” he said.

Krueger has also declined to elaborate on the role the relationship between Stewart and his wife may have played 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,” Krueger said.

Stewart made his first court appearance Monday on eight counts of first-degree murder and a single charge of felony assault of a law enforcement officer and isn’t scheduled to return to court until next month. He was wounded by a Carthage police officer who responded to several panicked 911 calls from Pinelake and remains in medical care at the state’s Central Prison in Raleigh.

His court-appointed attorney, John Megerian of Asheboro, has declined to comment because he hadn’t spoken to his client.

Stewart and his wife, a nursing assistant at Pinelake identified by a neighbor as Wanda Luck, first split in the 1980s following a teenage marriage that ended in divorce. Even as they married several other people, Stewart still talked about Luck, said Sue Griffin, who was Stewart’s wife for 15 years before he and Luck reunited and married each other ó again ó in June 2002.

Griffin said Stewart would often compare her and Luck, complaining that, “Wanda doesn’t do it like that.”

“I’d look at him and say, ‘Well, I ain’t Wanda,'” Griffin said in an interview Monday. “As time went on, I could tell he wasn’t quite over her.”

Griffin said in an earlier interview that Stewart had recently started telling family he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to “go away.”

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.

Several telephone numbers for Luck and her family were disconnected, and a knock at the door was unanswered at an address in nearby Robbins.

Authorities said Stewart arrived at Pinelake around 10 a.m. Sunday. McKenzie said he was armed with more than one weapon, and witnesses said he was shooting both a “deer gun” and a shotgun. Several people inside the home called 911, pleading for help: “There’s a man in here with a double-barrel shotgun shooting people! White man with a beard.”

Authorities identified the victims as Pinelake residents Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; Louise DeKler, 98; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39.