Robert Findlay Smith (Jefferson County Jail)
A Vestavia Hills man is now formally charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of a man and two women during a church potluck supper Thursday night.
Robert Findlay Smith, 70, is charged in the slayings of Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham and a Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover.
The charge against Smith is capital because two or more people were killed in the shooting. He was booked into the Jefferson County Jail at 3:33 p.m.
District Attorney Danny Carr announced the warrants. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and friends along with the entire Vestavia Hills community,’' Carr said.
Smith, described by police as the “lone suspect,” was taken into custody after police were called at 6: 22 p.m. to an active shooter at the church. He was held in the Vestavia Hills City Jail overnight and will now be transferred to the Jefferson County Jail where he will be held without bond.
Smith lives near Cahaba Heights and police blocked off his roadway for much of Friday afternoon while they carried out a search warrant at his Sicard Hollow home. Public records show Smith is an ATF licensed firearms dealer, with a business called Original Magazines 2 at 4128 Sicard Hollow Road, which is also his home address.
Police searched the Sicard Hollow Road home Robert Findlay Smith on Friday, June 17, 2022. (Carol Robinson)
Authorities have not disclosed a motive in the shooting, and court records don’t list any prior violent crimes for Smith. He received a DUI in 2016, and went to driving school.
He pleaded guilty and received a $465 fine to DUI in Chattanooga on November 2005 case in which he was also charged with possession of a handgun while intoxicated. That charge was dropped.
Smith in 2008 sued Samford University and UAB police Officer Jeremy Burchfield, A UAB police officer who detained him on Samford’s campus. The suit said Smith was illegally detained in 2007 for carrying a firearm on campus and impersonating a police office by carrying a badge. He claimed in the suit there was no evidence of that and the allegations were fabricated by Samford and police.
His lawyer argued that “Many of Plaintiff’s customers are law enforcement personnel and merchants who sell firearms in Jefferson County and outside of Jefferson County throughout the state.”
He won a jury verdict with damages of $29,000 against Burchfield.
Last night’s incident happened during a “Boomers Potluck” dinner that started at 5 p.m. at the church. There were about 25 at the dinner in the parish hall.
Smith was sitting alone, and a longtime church member approached him and invited him to sit at a table, said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, who founded the church in 1973 and retired in 2005. He identified himself to victim Rainey only as “Mr. Smith” and refused to join them.
He then pulled out a handgun and shot three people, Carpenter said.
Jim Musgrove, a church member, hit the shooter with a chair and wrestled the gun away from him, Carpenter said.
“It was extremely critical in saving lives,’’ said Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware. “In my opinion, he’s a hero.”
No one at the dinner knew “Mr. Smith,” who claimed he was a former member. “We’re trying to figure out who he is,” Carpenter said.
Law enforcement radio communications during the active shooter situation indicated that police were familiar with the suspect, knowing where he lived and what he drove.
Ware said he could not yet comment on any prior possible involvement with the suspect.
“Any past interactions involving this suspect are currently being investigated by numerous agencies,’’ Ware said. “It would be premature for me at this time to go into that topic.”
“The suspect has previously attended services at this church but as far as the motive behind this, it’s still being looked into by many agencies,’’ Ware said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speculate.”
“At some point he produced a concealed handgun and began shooting, striking the three victims,’’ Ware said.
“The suspect acted alone,’’ Ware said. “There is no threat to the community.”