Vistavia Hills, Ala – The 71-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police said he showed up for dinner, pulled a gun and killed three elderly participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms. Whispered words of love in his ear.
Police said church members escaped further violence Thursday night when someone at dinner subdued the gunman and held him until police arrived. The suspect was under arrest Friday while prosecutors were preparing warrants to charge him with murder.
The baffling violence in an affluent suburb outside Birmingham has left victims’ families in disbelief, stunned a community known for its family-centered lifestyle, and heightened anxiety in a country still reeling from the recent massacre of gunmen who attacked a Texas school, a New York grocery store. . Store and other church in California.
Two of the Alabama shooting victims were 84; III, 75. They met with other members of the church at the Potluck Boomers. Stephen’s Church was Walter Barlett Rainey’s favorite spot, a church that “welcomes all with love,” according to his family. They said in a statement Friday that it was hard to believe he was killed while attending a church dinner with his wife six decades ago.
“We are all so grateful that she survived and died in her arms as she muttered words of comfort and love into his ears,” said the statement provided by Melinda Renee Thompson, Renee’s 84-year-old daughter.
Police said Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham died shortly after being taken to hospital on Thursday. The third victim, 84, died Friday. Police did not immediately release her name, citing a request from her family for privacy.
Vistavia Hills Police Captain Shane Ware said more people may have been killed or injured had the shooter not been stopped.
“It was critical to saving lives,” Ware said at a news conference Friday. “The one who conquered the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero.”
Ware said the suspect and the three victims were all white. He said police were still investigating the motives of the suspect, who occasionally attended church services. He said the man’s name has been withheld until prosecutors formally accuse him of premeditated murder.
Police said in a statement on Friday that investigators had executed a search warrant at a home in connection with the shooting. They didn’t say what they were looking for or whose house it was.
Thursday’s church meeting was described as “Boomers Potlack,” according to messages posted by Reverend John Burroughs, the pastor on the church’s Facebook page. He said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and was trying to get back to Alabama.
Ashley Curry, Mayor of Vistavia Hills, told reporters that his “tightly-knit, resilient and loving community” had been shaken by “this senseless violent act”. The bedroom community is home to many businessmen, doctors and lawyers working in nearby Birmingham. Vistavia Hills is known for its first-class schools and suburban lifestyle. It has a population of approximately 40,000, most of whom are white.
Reverend Rebecca Bridges, Associate Chair of the Church, led an online prayer on the church’s Facebook page Friday morning. I prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the one who committed the shooting.”
“We pray you work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray to help us forgive.”
Bridges, who is currently in London, alluded to other mass shootings recently while praying that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “will see what happened in St. Stephens, Ovaldi, Buffalo and in many other places and their hearts will be changed. Minds will be opened.”
“And that our culture will change and our laws will change in ways that protect us all,” she added.
There were several high-profile shootings in May and June, beginning with a racist attack on May 14 that killed 10 black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The following week, a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Ovaldi, Texas.
Thursday’s shooting occurred just over a month after one person was killed and five wounded when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in Southern California. It comes nearly seven years after the day a self-proclaimed white supremacist killed nine people while studying the Bible at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Agents from the FBI, the US Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives joined investigators at the scene, which was surrounded Friday by yellow police tape as flashing police cars blocked the road to the church.
On Saturday, thousands rallied in the United States and at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., 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 issued a statement late Thursday regretting what she described as the horrific and tragic loss of life. Although she said she was happy to hear that the suspect was being held, she wrote: “This should never happen – in a church, in a store, in town, anywhere.”