A 71-year-old Alabama man attending a church potluck dinner for elderly parishioners on Thursday evening suddenly pulled out a handgun and started firing, killing three people until a churchgoer heroically subdued him, police said Friday.
The gunman, who has not been publicly identified, was an “occasional attendee” at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, a suburban community on the outskirts of Birmingham that is rated one of the safest in Alabama.
“The suspect has previously attended services at this church but as far as the motive behind this event, it is still being looked into,” Vestavia Hills Police Captain Shane Ware said at a Friday morning briefing.
Ware identified the first two victims as 84-year-old Walter Rainey, who died at the scene, and 75-year-old Sarah Yeager, who died at a hospital. A third person, an 84-year-old woman, died Friday afternoon at a local hospital, the Vestavia Hills Police Department said on Facebook.
The gunman and his victims had all attended a “Boomers Potluck” event that started at 5 p.m., AL.com reported. At 6:22 p.m., mid-way through the dinner, police received 911 calls about an active shooter.
Ware said an attendee managed to subdue the gunman and hold him down until police arrived. AL.com reported that attendee was a churchgoer named Jim Musgrove, who hit the shooter with a chair before wrestling the gun away from him.
He was “extremely critical in saving lives” and “in my opinion is a hero,” Ware said.
The gunman, who Ware said is white, was in custody at the Vestavia Hills Police Department on Friday and was expected to be charged with capital murder.
"We're gonna need a lot of love." Rev. Kelley Hudlow with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama at the scene of a shooting at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills: https://t.co/QPHOxh4aFv pic.twitter.com/p8QwPpEioE
— #WVTM13 (@WVTM13) June 17, 2022
Police believe the gunman acted alone. In the initial panic after the shooting, Kelley Hudlow of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, who was in a staging area the police set up just across the street from the church, told The Daily Beast that she believed the shooter was “not somebody that was known” to the church or the diocese.
Ware said he would not be releasing the name of the shooter until charges are filed.
The church’s rector, Rev. John Burruss, posted videos of support for his parishioners from Greece where he and church members were on a pilgrimage. He said he planned to return to Alabama within 24 hours.
“I’m deeply moved by the radical support of love from people reaching out throughout the country,” said Burruss, fighting back tears.