UNITED STATES NEWS

Gunman kills 3 seniors over potluck dinner at Alabama church

Jun 17, 2022, 11:49 AM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 12:12 am

CORRECTS NAME OF CHURCH - Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stephen’s E...

CORRECTS NAME OF CHURCH - Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (AP) — The 70-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police say he showed up for a potluck dinner, pulled out a handgun and fatally shot three of the elderly participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms as she whispered words of love in his ear.

Church members were spared further violence Thursday evening when one of them rushed the gunman, struck him with a chair and held him until police arrived, a former pastor said. The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder Friday, the Jefferson County district attorney announced.

The baffling violence in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham stunned a community known for its family-centered lifestyle. It also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent slaughter wrought by gunmen who attacked a Texas school, a New York grocery store and another church in California.

“Why would a guy who’s been around for a while suddenly decide he would go to a supper and kill somebody?” said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, St. Stephen’s pastor for three decades before he retired in 2005. “It doesn’t make sense.”

All three shooting victims were members attending a monthly dinner at the church, said Carpenter, who still attends Sunday services there but wasn’t present Thursday night. A Facebook post referred to the gathering as a “Boomers Potluck.”

Carpenter said one victim’s wife and other witnesses recounted what had happened. They said a man who introduced himself only as “Mr. Smith” sat at a table by himself — as he’d done while visiting a previous church dinner.

“People tried to speak to him and he was kind of distant and very much a loner,” Carpenter told The Associated Press by telephone.

At Thursday’s dinner, church member Walter Bartlett Rainey invited the visitor to join his table, Carpenter said, but the man declined. He said Rainey’s wife noticed the visitor wasn’t eating.

“Linda Rainey said he didn’t have any food and she offered to fix a plate for him, and he turned that down,” said Carpenter.

Soon afterward, Carpenter said, the man drew his gun and opened fire — shooting Walter Rainey and two other church members. Carpenter said another member, a man in his 70s, grabbed a chair and charged the gunman.

“He hit him with a folding chair, wrestling him to the ground, took the gun from him and hit him in the head with his own gun,” Carpenter said.

Church members held the suspect until police arrived, police Capt. Shane Ware said. A police mugshot showed Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts to his nose and forehead.

“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Ware told a news conference Friday, saying that act was “extremely critical in saving lives.”

Rainey, 84, died at the scene. His wife of six decades wasn’t harmed.

“We are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears,” Rainey’s family said in a statement.

Police said Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, died soon afterward at a hospital, and an 84-year-old woman died Friday. Police didn’t release her name, citing the family’s request for privacy.

Ware said Smith and the three victims were all white. He said police are investigating what motivated the suspect, who occasionally attended services at the church. Authorities executed a search warrant Friday at Smith’s home, less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.

Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show Smith is a licensed gun dealer whose business is listed at his home address. Court records show Smith filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Samford University, a private university in metro Birmingham, alleging campus security wrongly detained him and accused him of impersonating a police officer.

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry told reporters his “close-knit, resilient, loving community” was rocked by “this senseless act of violence.” It’s home to nearly 40,000 residents, most of them white, including many businesspeople, doctors and lawyers who work in Birmingham.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. John Burruss, said in a Facebook post that he was in Greece on a pilgrimage and trying to get back.

The Rev. Rebecca Bridges, the associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who perpetrated the shooting.”

“We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”

Bridges, currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that “our culture will change and that our laws will change in ways that will protect all of us.”

Thursday’s shooting happened just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a Southern California church. It also came nearly seven years to the day after an avowed white supremacist killed nine people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A message posted by St. Stephens said it would hold Sunday services, adding: “We will gather at the Table that has taught so many that love is always breaking through in this world, no matter what we experience, whether it be doubt, anger, loss, grief, or death — but yet also joy and life.”

___

AP writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this story.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

United States News

Associated Press

Maui Fire Department report on deadly wildfire details need for more equipment and mutual aid plans

HONOLULU (AP) — When wildfires broke out across Maui last August, some firefighters carried victims piggyback over downed power lines to safety and sheltered survivors inside their engines. Another drove a moped into a burning neighborhood again and again, whisking people away from danger one at a time. But despite devoting nearly all the personnel […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Senate to convene Mayorkas impeachment trial as Democrats plot quick dismissal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats could end the impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday before arguments even begin. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to call votes to dismiss two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas after senators are sworn in as jurors midday, a move that could scuttle the trial […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Bob Graham, ex-US senator and Florida governor, dies at 87

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the Intelligence Committee following the 2001 terrorist attacks and opposed the Iraq invasion, has died. He was 87. His family announced the death Tuesday in a statement posted on X by his daughter Gwen Graham. Graham, who served three terms in the Senate, made […]

7 hours ago

Jordan Rasmussen 
pictured on July 23, 1973, the day his first child, David, was born. Jordan was m...

Amy Donaldson/KSL Podcasts

The Letter podcast debuts second season on 1982 murders

The Letter podcast rolls out its unexpected second season Tuesday, highlighting generational questions about trauma and forgiveness stemming from the 1982 murders of two young fathers.

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Four people shot — one fatally — in the Bronx by shooters on scooters

NEW YORK (AP) — Four people were shot — one fatally — on a street corner in the Bronx Tuesday evening by shooters riding on scooters, police said. About 10 shots were fired after two scooters pulled up to the intersection after 6 p.m. and passengers on the back of each pulled out guns, Assistant […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Voting technology company settles lawsuit against far-right news outlet over 2020 election claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — A voting technology company targeted by bogus fraud claims related to the 2020 presidential election settled a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against a conservative news outlet. The settlement between Florida-based Smartmatic and One America News Network is the latest development in a larger legal pushback by voting equipment companies that became ensnared in […]

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Gunman kills 3 seniors over potluck dinner at Alabama church