Two people are dead, and another is wounded after a gunman opened fire at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Vestavia Hills Thursday night. Police apprehended the “lone suspect” after the shooting, according to Vestavia Hills police Captain Shane Ware.
At a Friday morning press conference, Captain Ware identified the shooter as a 71-year-old white male. Police have decided to withhold his name until he is served with capital murder warrants this afternoon. Officers from the investigating agencies believe the man acted alone and there is no further threat to the community.
The church’s rector, Rev. John Burruss, spoke to the church and community via Facebook video since he is on a pilgrimage in Greece. He said, “I’m deeply moved by the radical support of love from many people reaching out all over the country, our first responders who are gathered now with the families. In the coming days and hours, we’ll have announcements about ways to pray and to gather. That is what we do as people of faith. We come together in the midst of life and death.” Rev. Burruss began the process of returning to Vestavia Hills to minister to the church this morning.
According to the church’s calendar, on the evening of the shooting, a meeting called “Boomer Potluck” was scheduled at the church. A description said there would be no program for the event but rather just a time for church members to enjoy food and fellowship. The meal began at 5:00, and police received a call about the active shooter at “approximately 6:22 PM.” Police refused to speculate about how many people were in attendance, but attendees at the event estimated there were around 25.
Rev. Doug Carpenter, who founded the church and served as its pastor from 1973 to 2005, told reporters that a man who called himself “Mr. Smith” sat at a table alone. He claimed to be a former member, but no one remembered him. However, police reported that the man had attended services there in the past. When a church member approached him and invited him to sit at a table with some of the others, he reportedly refused to join them.
A little while later, he pulled out a handgun and started shooting. Carpenter said that a church member named Jim Musgrove picked up a chair and used it to attack the shooter. Then Musgrove managed to pull the gun away from “Mr. Smith.”
Huey Gardner, rector at St. Mary’s on Highlands, a sister church to Saint Stephen’s, arrived on the scene and, at one point, helped to direct traffic. He told al.com that he was “overwhelmed and saddened. I’ve dealt with a lot of sadness but never anything like this. Just unprovoked.”
This morning police identified the victims as Walter Rainey, 84, who died on the scene, and Sarah Yeager, 75, who died at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital. An 84-year-old female is receiving treatment at a Birmingham hospital.
When asked to describe the bravery of the man who subdued the suspect, Captain Ware hailed him as a “hero.” He added that his actions “were extremely critical in saving lives.”
Police did not speculate about the gunman’s motive, saying their investigation is still ongoing.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/z1b
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”