Monday, March 30, 2009

One more reason to never go anywhere unarmed

If I ever even briefly consider going anywhere unarmed again, I'll remember Pinelake Rest Home in Carthage.

CARTHAGE -- When Michael Cotten pulled into Pinelake Health and Rehab on Sunday to see his aunt, a big man in overalls fired a shotgun at him before he could even park.

The blast Cotten described was apparently the first in a shooting rampage that left seven elderly residents and one staff member dead, Cotten and two others wounded, and the suspected gunman in custody and hospitalized, police said.

The shootings took place about 10 a.m. at the facility, at 801 Pinehurst Ave. in Carthage, about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh.

"As I was pulling into the parking lot, he started shooting my vehicle before I came to a stop," said Cotten, 53, of Carthage, a food-bank outreach coordinator and retired corrections assistant superintendent.

There's only one hero in this mess, the man in blue who responded to the frantic 911 call.

A Carthage police officer, Justin Garner, 25, was shot in the leg during the incident, but he was treated and released from First Health Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst.

Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said Garner confronted Stewart in the hallway of the nursing home. Both men fired. Both were wounded, McKenzie said.

Translation: Police Officer Justin Garner stopped the murderous rampage with one or more well-aimed shots. He was shot in the leg by the murderer, but he stopped the killing.

I worked in Carthage at the weekly newspaper there in the late '70s and in recent years since I've been Pinelake Rest Home to visit the retired managing editor, Woodrow Wilhoit. Thank God Woody has gone on to glory and wasn't one of the victims at Sunday's shooting rampage.

From reading the news accounts, it seems the murderer was looking for his ex-wife, a nurse assistant working at the rest home, but was stopped by Garner before he would find and kill her.

I probably shouldn't be so critical with such scant knowledge, but it appears to me that one of the goats in this mess is the aforementioned Michael Cotten, apparently the first shooting victim who is identified as a "retired corrections assistant superintendent." Seems he's obviously clueless since he identified the murder weapon as a shotgun, while photos clearly show it's a rifle.

But Cotten is mainly a goat for not being armed. He's retired from working in prisons and isn't armed? He of all people should know the world is full of dangerous people, inside and outside prisons. If Cotten had been armed, he could have stopped this rampage when it started.

But again, I'm probably being too critical without knowing enough facts. It's just that this is real close to home and I'm mad as hell. It could have been my elderly mother in that rest home. It could have been my daughter working as a nurse in that rest home.

And even though Officer Garner responded promptly to the 911 call, he was at least two or three minutes away from downtown Carthage to the rest home on the outskirts of town. As the saying goes, when seconds count, police are minutes away. So if you aren't armed, you oughta be.

Buy yourself a handgun. Learn how to use it. Get yourself a concealed carry permit. And then never go anywhere unarmed again. That's the only way to survive and protect the people you love in these dangerous times. If it hasn't happened already, your quiet hometown could be next.

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