Potluck ‘hero’ overpowers shooter whoinside an Alabama church on Thursday, killing three members, police said. Police announced the death of the third victim on Friday afternoon.
Police Captain Shane Ware said a suspect was in custody but only identified him as a 71-year-old white man who occasionally attended services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in suburban Birmingham , in Vestavia Hills. District Attorney Danny Carr later identified the suspect as Robert Findlay Smith and said warrants had been issued for the capital murder of two or more people. He is being held without bail.
The suspect pulled out a gun and opened fire during dinner, a “Boomers Potluck” rally attended by other church members, Ware said. He killed Walter Rainey, an 84-year-old man from Irondale, Alabama, and Sarah Yeager, a 75-year-old woman from Pelham, Alabama, police said in a statement earlier Friday.
An 84-year-old woman from Hoover, Alabama was also injured in the shooting. She was taken to an area hospital and died on Friday. Police said in a statement Friday afternoon that the woman’s family had requested that her name be withheld.
A person in the room at the time of the shooting restrained the suspect and held him until police arrived, Ware said.
“The person who subdued the suspect in my opinion is a hero,” Ware told reporters at a Friday morning news conference. He said the person’s actions were “extremely critical in saving lives”. Ware did not identify the person.
Ware said he did not know how many people were attending the dinner at the time of the shooting.
The suspect acted alone and there was no threat to the community, Ware said. Investigators were still investigating the motive for the shooting and whether the suspect had any previous interactions with law enforcement.
Emergency dispatchers received a call around 6:20 p.m. Thursday reporting an active shooter at the church, Ware said.
According to posts on the church’s Facebook page, church pastor Reverend John Burruss said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and was trying to return to Alabama. .
“More than anything, I ask for your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of those who have passed away. They are the pillars of our community, and I cannot begin to imagine how painful this is for all our church, and the wider community,” he wrote.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry praised the police response on Friday, saying officers “handled this crisis in an exemplary manner.” He said his “close-knit, resilient and loving community” of 39,000 people had been rocked by “this senseless act of violence”.
The Reverend Rebecca Bridges, associate rector of the church, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page on Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who carried out the shooting.”
“We pray that you will work in this person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us forgive.”
Bridges, who is currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “see what happened in St. Stephen’s andand and in so many other places and their hearts will be changed, minds will be opened.”
“And that our culture will change and our laws will change in a way that protects us all,” she added.
Thursday’s shooting happened just over a month afterwhen a man about Taiwanese parishioners in a Southern California church. It comes nearly seven years to the day after a killed nine people during a Bible study in in Charleston, South Carolina.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey released a statement Thursday evening lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life. Although she said she was happy to hear the suspect was in custody, she wrote: “This should never happen – in a church, in a store, in town or anywhere. “
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