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An armed man kills 3 adults during dinner at a church in Alabama

WESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. – The 70-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police said he showed up for dinner, pulled out a gun and fatally shot three of the elderly participants, one of whom died at a woman’s home. her hands as she whispered words of love in his ear.

Church members were spared further violence on Thursday night when one of them rushed to the shooter, hit him with a chair and detained him until police arrived, a former pastor said. Suspect Robert Findley Smith has been charged with murder on Friday, Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said.

The confusing violence in the affluent suburbs of Birmingham amazes a community known for its family-oriented lifestyle. It has also exacerbated unrest in a nation still rocked by a recent massacre by gunmen who attacked a school in Texas, a grocery store in New York and another church in California.

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“Why would a man who has been around for a while suddenly decide to go to dinner and kill someone?” Said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, pastor of St. Stephen’s for three decades before retiring in 2005. “There’s no point.”

All three victims of the shooting are members attending a monthly dinner at the church, said Carpenter, who still attends Sunday services there but was not present Thursday night. A Facebook post mentions the gathering as “Boomers Potluck.”

Carpenter said the victim’s wife and other witnesses told what happened. It was said that a man who introduced himself only as “Mr. Smith was sitting alone at the table, as he had done at a previous church dinner.

“People were trying to talk to him, and he was kind of distant and very lonely,” Carpenter told the Associated Press by telephone.

At Thursday dinner, church member Walter Bartlett Rainey invited the visitor to join his table, Carpenter said, but the man declined. He said Rainey’s wife had noticed that the visitor was not eating.

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“Linda Rainey said he had no food and she offered to fix his plate, but he refused,” Carpenter said.

Shortly afterwards, Carpenter said, the man pulled out his pistol and opened fire, shooting Walter Rainey and two other church members. Carpenter said another member, a 70-year-old man, grabbed a chair and attacked the shooter.

“He hit him with a folding chair, pushed him to the ground, took the gun from him and hit him in the head with his own gun,” Carpenter said.

Church members detained the suspects until police arrived, said Police Captain Shane Ware. A police photo shows Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts on his nose and forehead.

“I think the man who subdued the suspect was a hero,” Weir told a news conference on Friday, saying the action was “extremely critical to saving lives.”

Rainey, 84, died on the spot. His wife, with whom he has been dating for six decades, was not injured.

“We are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms as she muttered words of comfort and love in his ears,” Rainey’s family said in a statement.

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Police say Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, died shortly afterwards in hospital, and an 84-year-old woman died Friday. Police did not release her name, citing the family’s request for confidentiality.

Ware said Smith and the three victims were white. He said police were investigating what motivated the suspect, who occasionally attended church services. Authorities carried out a search warrant Friday at Smith’s home, less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.

Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show that Smith is a licensed arms dealer whose business is listed at his home address. Court records show that Smith filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Samford University, a private university on the Birmingham Subway Station, alleging that campus guards had improperly detained him and accused him of posing as a police officer.

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry told reporters that his “cohesive, resilient, loving community” was shaken by “this senseless act of violence.” It is home to nearly 40,000 residents, most of whom are white, including many businessmen, doctors and lawyers working in Birmingham.

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The pastor of the church, the Rev. John Burrus, said in a Facebook post that he had been to Greece on pilgrimage and was trying to return.

Rev. Rebecca Bridges, assistant rector, runs an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page on Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and members of the church who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who carried out the shooting.”

“We pray you work in this man’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us forgive.”

Bridges, who is currently in London, hinted at other recent mass shootings as she prayed “for our culture to change and for our laws to change in ways that will protect us all.”

Thursday’s shooting came just over a month after one man was killed and five were injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in Southern California. This happened nearly seven years before the day, after an outspoken supporter of white supremacy killed nine people while studying the Bible at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

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A statement from St. Stevens said Sunday services would be held, adding: “We will gather at a table that has learned so much that love always breaks into this world, no matter what we experience, whether in doubt or not. anger, loss, grief, or death – but still joy and life. “

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AP writer Russ Bynam of Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

An armed man kills 3 adults during dinner at a church in Alabama

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