Suspected Alabama church shooter is ‘occasional attendee’ of house of worship


The suspected gunman accused of killing two people and injuring a third inside a church near Birmingham, Alabama was described Friday by police as an “occasional attendee of the church.”

The 74-year-old suspect, who has not been identified, was attending a “Boomers Potluck” gathering at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, when he at some point “produced a handgun” and “began shooting,” said Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware.

“The suspect has previously attended services at this church,” Ware said.

Another attendee at the event subdued the suspect and held him down until police arrived, Ware said. “The person who subdued the suspect in my opinion is a hero,” he added.

Walter Rainey, 84, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities. Sarah Yeager, 75, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. And an 84-year-old woman was still being treated at a hospital Friday.

The suspect was taken into custody and capital murder charges against him are pending, police said. The motive for the shooting is under investigation.

The suspect acted alone, and there is no threat to the community, Ware said.

The police department responded at 6:22 p.m. to an active shooter call. Multiple law enforcement agencies and fire departments were at the scene, police said.

Rev. John Burruss, the pastor of the church, who is in Athens, Greece on a church pilgrimage, said in a video that he was working to get back to Alabama Thursday. He appeared to hold back tears at times and asked for prayers.

Church members console each other after a shooting at the Saint Stevens Episcopal Church on June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala.Butch Dill / AP

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

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 an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

On Saturday thousands of people rallied in the U.S. and at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to renew calls for stricter gun control measures. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence lobbied legislators and testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

Vestavia Hills is a city of around 39,000 southeast of Birmingham.

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