VESTAVIA HILLS, Alabama. – A 71-year-old man fatally shot two elderly people and injured a third with a handgun during a potluck dinner at an Alabama church where he occasionally attended services, the city said Friday. police.
The suspect was subdued and held by an event attendee until police arrived Thursday evening, sparing the congregation further violence at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, said police captain Shane Ware.
“It was extremely critical in saving lives,” Ware told a news conference. “The person who subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero.”
Ware did not give a motive for the shooting. He also did not identify the suspect, whom police took into custody at the church. He said the man’s name was withheld until prosecutors formally charged him with capital murder.
Walter Rainey, 84, from nearby Irondale, was killed in church and Sarah Yeager, 75, from Pelham died after being taken to hospital. The third victim, an 84-year-old woman, remained hospitalized, Ware said.
He said the suspect and the three victims were all white.
The event was a “Boomers Potluck” gathering inside the church, according to posts posted on the church’s Facebook page by pastor Reverend John Burruss. He said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and was trying to get back to Alabama.
Police are still trying to determine the shooter’s motive, Ware said. He said the suspect had previously attended church services.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry praised the police response, saying officers “handled this crisis in an exemplary manner”. He said his “close-knit, resilient and loving community” of 39,000 people had been rocked by “this senseless act of violence”.
The Reverend Rebecca Bridges, associate rector of the church, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page on Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who carried out the shooting.”
“We pray that you will work in this person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us forgive.”
Bridges, who is currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “see what happened in St. Stephens and Uvalde and Buffalo and so many other places and their hearts will be changed. , minds will be open.”
“And that our culture will change and our laws will change in a way that protects us all,” she added.
There were several high-profile shootings in May and June, beginning with a May 14 racist attack that killed 10 black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The following week, a gunman massacred 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Thursday’s shooting came 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 comes nearly seven years to the day after an avowed white supremacist killed nine people during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Agents from the FBI, US Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives joined investigators at the scene, who remained cordoned off with yellow tape on Friday as police vehicles with flashing lights blocked the road to the church.
On Saturday, thousands gathered across the United States and at the National Mall in Washington, DC, to renew calls for tougher gun control measures. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence lobbied lawmakers and testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey released a statement Thursday evening lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life. Although she said she was happy to hear the suspect was in custody, she wrote: “This should never happen – in a church, in a store, in town or anywhere. “
Vestavia Hills is a residential community just southeast of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s two most populous cities.