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‘Hero’ subdues gunman who killed three at parish supper in Alabama

20 June 2022


Captain Shane Ware of the Vestavia Hills Police Department gives a statement on the attack on Thursday

Captain Shane Ware of the Vestavia Hills Police Department gives a statement on the attack on Thursday

THREE people have been killed in a shooting at an Episcopal church in Alabama, after a man opened fire at a bring-and-share supper on Thursday.

One man died at the scene, and two women who were injured in the attack at St Stephen’s, Vestavia Hills, later died in hospital. Vestavia Hills is a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, in the southern United States.

The shooter was subdued and held down until police arrived. On Friday, a spokesperson for the Vestavia Hills Police Department described these actions as “extremely critical” in saving lives, and said that “the person that subdued him is a hero.”

On Friday, the office of the District Attorney charged Robert Findlay Smith, 70, with capital murder for the attack. Police described him as an “occasional attendee” at the church. The New York Times reports that Mr Smith is a federally licensed firearms dealer.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, led an online service on Thursday evening, including prayers for the victims and the community of St Stephen’s.

“Surround us with your love, even in difficult times, as we face again the tragedy of gun violence,” Bishop Curry said. “Merciful God, please bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence.”

This prayer was adapted from a litany developed by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network that unites almost 100 bishops of the Episcopal Church in a call to end gun violence in America, ENS reports.

The shooting in Alabama occured one day before the seventh anniversary of the Charleston church shooting, in which nine people were killed at a Bible-study meeting in an Episcopal church in South Carolina (News, 19 June 2015).

Services at St Stephen’s continued over the weekend. The Rector, the Revd John Burruss, was in Greece at the time of the attack, leading a pilgrimage of members of the congregation. In a video message shortly after the news broke, Fr Burruss said that he was “deeply moved by the radical support of love from many people reaching out from all over the country”.

Melinda Rainey Thompson, whose father, Walter Rainey, was killed in the attack, was quoted in the New York Times on Thursday, describing St Stephen’s as a “big, sweet church, very open-minded with people from all walks of life”.

Ms Thompson said that her father and mother, who had both been at the meal, had not known Mr Smith, but had tried to engage him in conversation and invited him to sit at their table.

Mr Smith declined, but, Ms Thompson said, her parents had positioned their chairs in an attempt to include him, and Mr Rainey had told his wife — in whose arms he later died — that next time they would sit at Mr Smith’s table to make sure he felt welcome in the church.

Soon after, Mr Smith pulled out a handgun and opened fire.

In a statement on Friday, Fr Burruss wrote: “We will gather at the Table that has always been open to everyone. This is what we do as a people of faith. We gather together to know and remind each other that God is with us.”

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