Authorities have identified the suspect in the Alabama church shooting as a 70-year-old man, who shot and killed three senior citizens at a group meeting on Thursday evening.
According to the report by AP, the suspect from the Alabama church shooting 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. He was subdued by someone else at the event until police arrived, authorities said Friday.
He shot dead Walter Rainey, 84, and Sarah Yeager, in Vestavia Hills outside Birmingham, police said.
The third gunshot victim, an 84-year-old woman whose family requested her name be withheld, died Friday at a hospital, Vestavia Hills police said.
The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder Friday, the Jefferson County district attorney announced.
CNN reported that the office of the Jefferson County District Attorney said Friday evening warrants were issued against the Alabama church shooting suspect for the capital murder of two or more persons. He is being held without bail in county jail.
Investigators believe the Alabama church shooting suspect acted alone, and they are trying to determine the motive, Ware said.
Authorities were searching a home connected to the shooting, police said in a Facebook post Friday.
The shooting is the latest in a US house of worship and came on the eve of Friday’s seventh anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
A deadly mass shooting last month at a Taiwanese church service in Southern California along with mass shootings at an elementary school in Texas and a New York supermarket have drawn more political attention to gun violence. A bipartisan group of senators has announced an agreement in principle for gun safety legislation which would address mental health resources, school safety and access to firearms.
The baffling violence in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham stunned a community known for its family-centered lifestyle.
“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.