Officer who ended N.C. rampage hailed as hero
The police officer who stopped a shooting rampage at a nursing home in rural North Carolina is a hometown guy who always wanted to protect people from crime.
Justin Garner wanted to be a police officer going back when he was 5 or 6 years old, "since he was old enough to talk about it," Garner's father, Randy, said of his 25-year-old son.
Chris Garner, a cousin by marriage, wasn't surprised at his heroism.
"He doesn't do anything halfway," she said. "He puts his whole heart into it or not at all."
Justin Garner was the only officer on duty Sunday in the town of Carthage, population 2,021 when he saw a vehicle shot up in the parking lot of the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center. He heard shots from inside.
He didn't wait for other officers; he went right in, said his uncle, William Garner.
"One of the first things he saw was someone who'd been shot," said William Garner, who said he talked to his nephew about what happened. "I have no doubt that he knew it was going to get a whole lot worse if he didn't do something."
When Justin Garner came across the shooter reloading a shotgun "he gave him several opportunities to put the weapon down," the uncle said. "I think he learned that if it ever happened again, he'll only tell the person once or twice to drop that gun."
Garner shot Robert Stewart, 45, a house painter who allegedly murdered seven residents of Pinelake and a nurse. Garner was shot by Stewart, getting hit with two buckshot pellets in his leg and one in his foot, the uncle said.
Stewart was charged Monday with eight counts of first-degree murder. Although police would not discuss motive, Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said Stewart's estranged wife was working as a nursing assistant at Pinelake, and Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger said Stewart's rampage was not a random act.
The man who stopped the gunman got married in 2006 and had taken classes after high school so he could become a police officer. He has been a recipient of the Carthage police officer of the year award, and even the father of Garner's former fiancée had good things to say about him.
"He was always neat and clean," Chick Ingram said. "Never hear him say anything bad. He was just an awful nice young gun."
Garner is an avid deer hunter and a "typical Southern polite gentleman who happens to be a police officer," said Tom Herndon, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Carthage and chaplain to the town's police and fire departments.
Garner once stopped Herndon's wife for speeding and gave her a warning without knowing she was the pastor's wife, Herndon said.
"He's really being considered a hero for what he's done," Herndon said. "He went in by himself, he had no back-up, and if he'd waited for back-up, probably more lives would have been taken."
Ingram, whose cousin Jerry Avant, 39, was a nurse who was killed in the attack, said Garner "was a brave dude" to confront the shooter alone.
"If he hadn't gotten down there and stopped him there would have been a lot more dead," Ingram said.
McKenzie said he's not surprised Garner decided to pursue his dream in his small hometown.
"You don't find too many country boys heading to the city (to become police)," he said. "They stay here to take care of their own."