Alabama church shooting: Suspect identified in shooting that claimed 3 lives

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. — Three people died when a 70-year-old gunman opened fire at an Alabama church on Thursday, authorities said.

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Update 6:40 p.m. EDT June 17: Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr on Friday identified Robert Findlay Smith, 70, as the man accused of opening fire at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church one day earlier, killing three people, according to WIAT and AL.com.

Earlier, officials said the shooter was a 71-year-old man.

Jail records show authorities booked Smith into Jefferson County Jail on Friday afternoon to face a charge of capital murder with two or more victims. The Birmingham resident was being held without bond.

Update 2:41 p.m. EDT June 17: According to police in Vestavia Hills, an 84-year-old woman from Hoover who was one of the three shooting victims died at an area hospital on Friday, WBRC-TV reported. Police said that at the family’s request, the woman’s identity was being withheld.

Update 10:50 a.m. EDT June 17: Officials in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, said during a Friday morning news conference that the shooter was a 71-year-old man who acted alone. He is an occasional attendee at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Officials did not identify the shooter.

Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale and Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham were killed in the shooting, Capt. Shane Ware, a Vestavia Hills Police Department spokesperson, told reporters. An 84-year-old woman is still being treated at UAB Hospital.

A man calling himself “Mr. Smith” was sitting alone at a Boomers Potluck dinner held at the church, the news organization reported. A longtime church member approached him and invited him to sit at a table, the Rev. Doug Carpenter, who founded the church in 1973 and retired in 2005, told AL.com.

The man refused to sit with them and later pulled out a handgun and began firing, Carpenter told the news organization.

Jim Musgrove, a church member, hit the shooter with a chair and wrestled the gun away from him, Carpenter said.

“Vestavia Hills is a close-knit ... and loving community, and I want to state, first and foremost, our prayers go out to the victims and the families affected by this senseless act of violence,” Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry said during the news conference.

Update 11:09 p.m. EDT June 16: A “lone suspect” entered a small gathering there and began shooting, Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware said during a news conference late Thursday. One person was pronounced dead at the scene. Two people were taken to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, where one of the victims later died, AL.com reported. The surviving victim is being treated at UAB Hospital, according to the news outlet.

Update 9:20 p.m. EDT June 16: Capt. Shane Ware, a Vestavia Hills Police Department spokesperson, confirmed that three people were shot. One person died and two people were taken to an area hospital, he said.

“You never want something like this to happen in your community,” Kelley Hudlow, who works in the bishop’s office, told AL.com. “It is shocking that it happened here but we are going to love each other and take care of each other and find our way forward.”

Original report: According to police, the shooting occurred at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, WBRC-TV reported.

Multiple people were shot, Capt. Shane Ware, a Vestavia Hills Police Department spokesperson, confirmed to reporters during a brief news conference. He did not provide a specific number of victims. The suspected gunman was in custody, Ware said.

The church was hosting an event Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. CDT, WBMA-TV reported. According to WBRC, the event was a Boomers Potluck dinner.

It is unclear if that event was related to the shooting.

Dispatchers took a 911 call at about 6:22 p.m. CDT, WBRC reported.

Police said another briefing would be held at 8 p.m. CDT, AL.com reported.

Vestavia Hills is located south of Birmingham.