Heroic Nurse, Shot 27 Times, Saved Lives

Jerry Avant Jr. died while protecting others.

Doctors said the 39-year-old male nurse was shot more than two dozen times Sunday while trying to shield others from a gunman at a Carthage, N.C. nursing home.

The suspect, 45-year-old Robert Stewart, seemingly picked his targets at random, moving from room to room inside the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center in Carthage, N.C., shooting 11 people in all, eight fatally.

Seven of the eight killed were patients at the facility, where police say Stewart's ex-wife was employed.

Avant's father, Jerry Avant Sr., told CBS Affiliate WRAL-TV that the doctor told him his son was a hero. "He said he undoubtedly saved a lot
of lives before he went down, because he counted, himself, 27 bullet holes."

Avant was a 10-year veteran of the Coast Guard before he became a male nurse.

Avant's fiancée, Jill DeGarmo, a medical technician who was working at Pinelake's Alzheimer's unit when the shooting began, told CBS' The Early Show that she'd heard Avant over the intercom: "I couldn't make out everything he was trying to say, something about 'Lock the doors.' And one of the girls got a call that there had been a shooter in the building.

"And the first thing we did, we grabbed the patients as quickly as possible and got them in a room that would hold everyone. We put the blinds down and made sure everyone was in there. Turned the lights off, got it quiet."

Shortly after, DeGarmo said she heard doors open up "and we heard a couple of shots go off."

DeGarmo stayed with the patients until word spread that the gunman had been apprehended - and that her fiancée had been shot. "I went to the front to see where he was. He was laying on the floor bleeding. I ran and got some towels and tried to help control his bleeding the best I could until someone got there."

"He told me he felt like he was dying. And I kept telling him he wasn't going to die, everything would be OK.

"And he asked me to pray with him. And he started to pray. And he said a couple more times, he said, 'I'm dying.' I guess … I just didn't think that way. I didn't think that no matter how bad it got … he was not going to die, he was going to be OK. And he was losing consciousness. I just tried to keep him awake the best I could until someone got there. And then once the paramedics got there, they took over."

DeGarmo followed him to the hospital where he was taken into surgery.

"The doctor informed me during surgery - he had come out and spoke with me- [that] his heart had stopped. And they did revive him, but I guess his heart stopped the second time around, and they couldn't revive him. He had lost too much blood."

Avant's sister, Frances Greene, said she wanted the world to remember her brother as "a very compassionate, wonderful person.

"I couldn't have went out and hand-picked a better brother," she told Early Show anchor Julie Chen. "I mean, God blessed me with a wonderful brother for 39 years. And I love him so much. And I'm going to miss him, so much."

Avant's father told WRAL that he takes solace in knowing his son may have saved many more lives.

"Like it said in the Bible, John 15:13, any man that would lay down his life for another man, that's good."