A 71-year-old man who has previously attended services and functions at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is facing capital murder charges in the shooting deaths of a man and two women killed during a Thursday night potluck supper.
Vestavia Hills police on Friday identified the slain victims as Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale, and Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham.
Jane Pounds, 84-year-old, of Hoover, later died.
The “lone suspect” was taken into custody after police were called at 6: 22 p.m. to an active shooter at the church.
His name is being withheld pending formal warrants.
The 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.
A man calling himself “Mr. 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.
“Mr. Smith” refused to join them and later 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 premature for me at this time to go into that topic.”
A possible motive has not been disclosed.
“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.”
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry said he appreciates the outpouring of support.
“Vestavia Hills is a close-knit, resilient, loving community and I want to state first and foremost our prayers go out to the victims and families affected by this senseless act of violence,’' Curry said.
Church members console each other after a shooting at the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
“Our Vestavia Hills chaplains, along with members of St. Stephens and other local churches, are providing grief support for the families and the first responders that were present at the scene of this horrific act.”
“Our police, with assistance from other law enforcement agencies, handled this crisis in an exemplary manner,’' he said, “and I am grateful for the mutual aid and cooperation between all the agencies involved.”
The church’s rector is en route back to Alabama from Greece where he and church members were on a pilgrimage.
“I ask your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of the deceased,” the Rev. John Burruss, the church rector, wrote to parishioners Thursday night.
“These are the pillars of our community, and I cannot begin to fathom how painful this is for our entire church, and the larger community,” Burruss added.
A a prayer vigil will be held today at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church at 10 a.m.
“We can pray and we can gather,” Burruss said.
“We gather because we know that love is the most powerful force in this world, and tonight, and in the days, months, and years that come, will hold onto that truth to know that Christ’s love will always shine.”