70-year-old allegedly kills 3 at church meeting in Alabama

The suspect, who occasionally attended the church, is in custody.

June 17, 2022, 10:59 PM

A 70-year-old man faces capital murder charges after allegedly gunning down three people at a church group meeting in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Thursday night, authorities said.

The suspect, who occasionally attended Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, was at a church event known as the "boomers potluck dinner" when he took out a handgun and opened fire, Vestavia Hills Police said at a news conference Friday.

Three people were fatally shot: an 84-year-old man who died at the scene, a 75-year-old woman, and an 84-year-old woman who later died at a hospital, police said.

PHOTO: Church members console each other after a shooting at the Saint Stevens Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Alabama.
Church members console each other after a shooting at the Saint Stevens Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Alabama.
Butch Dill/AP
PHOTO: A police officer walks outside St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama on June 17, 2022. Authorities say two people were shot to death and a third was wounded during an evening gathering.
A police officer walks outside St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama on June 17, 2022. Authorities say two people were shot to death and a third was wounded during an evening gathering when a man pulled out a handgun and began firing.
Jay Reeves/AP

A church member subdued the suspect until police arrived, which authorities said helped save lives.

The suspect, identified by the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office as Robert Findlay Smith, was booked on capital murder charges and is being held in the Jefferson County Jail on no bond.

PHOTO: A mug shot of suspect Robert Findlay Smith, 70.
A mug shot of suspect Robert Findlay Smith, 70.
Jefferson County Jail

A motive is not clear, police said. Authorities said they believe the suspect acted alone.

The reverend’s wife, Ann Carpenter, told ABC News the suspect was at church most Sundays, adding that he "sat in the back" and "didn’t have much interaction with anybody."

PHOTO: Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stevens Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Alabama.
Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stevens Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Alabama.
Butch Dill/AP

About 25 people were there at the time of the shooting, the Rev. Douglas Carpenter said.

Two of the slain victims have been identified: 84-year-old Walter Rainey and 75-year-old Sarah Yeager.

PHOTO: Victim Walter Rainey, 84, in a photo taken in December 2020.
Victim Walter Rainey, 84, in a photo taken in December 2020.
Obtained by ABC News
PHOTO: Victim Sarah Yeager, 75, in an undated photo.
Victim Sarah Yeager, 75, in an undated photo.
FaceBook

When asked if he ever thought a shooting could happen at his church, the reverend replied, "At Saint Stephen's? Why not? It happens at peaceful places. That school that got shot up was a peaceful place. That grocery store was a peaceful place."

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry said the community, located about 7 miles outside of Birmingham, is "close-knit, resilient" and "loving."

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church released a statement on Friday which spoke of how they are relying on their faith.

“This scripture speaks a fundamental truth that has broken our hearts open, more so in the last 24 hours than anyone could have imagined possible. Darkness is in this world. And yet, as a people of faith, we hold on to the truth that darkness does not have the final word—the light and love of God do,” the statement read.

The statement continued that St. Stephen's Episcopal Church would gather on Sunday for worship during their normal service time of 8:00 a.m., 10:15 a.m., and 5:00 p.m. They will have full access to their building on Sunday.

“Over the past 24 hours, thousands of emails, phone calls, and text messages have been coming to Saint Stephen’s from all over the world, a reminder that we are deeply connected, supporting and walking with each other in faith,” the statement read.

“Neighbors are mobilizing and churches from all over Birmingham and beyond are holding us in prayer. I believe wholeheartedly that the light and love of Christ are beginning to break through this dark moment. And we will walk in love, shining that light with each other through this moment and into the days and months to come.”

ABC News’ Elwyn Lopez and Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events