Man aged 71 held over Alabama church shooting that left three dead

17 June 2022, 20:04

CORRECTION Church Shooting
CORRECTION Church Shooting. Picture: PA

The suspect was subdued and held by an attendee at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Birmingham.

A 71-year-old man has shot dead three elderly people during an event at an Alabama church where he occasionally attended services, police said.

The suspect was subdued and held by an attendee at the “potluck dinner” until police arrived on Thursday, sparing the congregation from further violence at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, Police Captain Shane Ware said.

“It was extremely critical in saving lives,” he told a news conference. “The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero.”

Police line
Police barricade the area (Butch Dill/AP)

Mr Ware did not give a motive for the shootings and did not identify the suspect, whom police took into custody at the church.

He said the man’s name was being withheld until prosecutors formally charge him with capital murder.

Walter Rainey, 84, of nearby Irondale, was killed at the church and Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, died after being taken to hospital.

The third victim, an 84-year-old woman, also died later in hospital.

He added that the suspect and the three victims were all white.

Church members gather for a prayer circle after the shooting (Butch Dill/AP)

The event was a “Boomers Potluck” gathering inside the church, according to messages posted on the church’s Facebook page by pastor the Rev John Burruss. He said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and trying to get back to Alabama.

Police are trying to determine the gunman’s motive, Mr Ware said. He said the suspect had previously attended services at the church.

Vestavia Hills mayor Ashley Curry praised the police response, saying officers “handled this crisis in an exemplary manner”. He said his “close-knit, resilient, loving community” of 39,000 had been rocked by “this senseless act of violence.”

The Rev Rebecca Bridges, the church’s associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page on Friday morning. She prayed for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, and also “for the person who perpetrated the shooting”.

“We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” she said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”

Church members console each other (Butch Dill/AP)

Ms Bridges, who is in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “will see what has happened at St Stephens and Uvalde and Buffalo and in so many other places and their hearts will be changed, minds will be opened. And that our culture will change and that our laws will change in ways that will protect all of us”.

There have been several high-profile shootings in May and June, starting with a racist attack on May 14 that killed 10 black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The following week, a gunman massacred 19 children and two adults at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Thursday’s shooting happened just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in southern California.

It is nearly seven years to the day after a white supremacist killed nine people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Agents with the FBI, US Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives joined investigators at the scene, which remained cordoned off on Friday with yellow police tape as vehicles with flashing lights blocked the route to the church.

By Press Association

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