The 70-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police say he showed up to a potluck dinner, drew a handgun and fatally shot three of the elderly participants, one of whom He died in his wife’s arms. him while he whispered words of love in her ear.
Church members were spared further violence Thursday night when one of them lunged at the gunman, hitting him with a chair and holding him until police arrived, a former pastor said. The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder on Friday, the Jefferson County District Attorney announced.
The unnerving violence in a wealthy Birmingham suburb shocked a community known for its family-centered lifestyle. It also deepened unease in a nation still reeling from the recent massacre by gunmen who attacked a Texas school, a New York grocery store and another church in California.
“Why does a guy who’s been around for a while suddenly decide he’s going to go to a dinner party and kill someone?” said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, pastor of St. Stephen’s for three decades before retiring in 2005. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The three shooting victims were members attending a monthly church dinner, said Carpenter, who still attends Sunday services there but was not present Thursday night. A Facebook post referred to the gathering as a “Boomers Potluck.”
Carpenter said one victim’s wife and other witnesses recounted what had happened. They said a man who introduced himself only as “Mr. Smith” sat at a table alone, as he had done while he was visiting an earlier church dinner.
“People tried to talk to him and he was a little distant and very lonely,” Carpenter told Associated Press by phone.
At dinner Thursday, church member Walter Bartlett Rainey invited the visitor to join his table, Carpenter said, but the man declined. He said Rainey’s wife noticed the visitor wasn’t eating.
“Linda Rainey said she didn’t have food and offered to make him a plate, and he turned her down,” Carpenter said.
Shortly afterward, Carpenter said, the man drew his gun and opened fire, shooting Walter Rainey and two other church members. Carpenter said another member, a man in his 70s, grabbed a chair and charged the attacker.
“He hit him with a folding chair, knocked him to the ground, took his gun and hit him in the head with his own gun,” Carpenter said.
Church members held the suspect until police arrived, Police Capt. Shane Ware said. A mugshot showed Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts to his nose and forehead.
[Con información de The Associated Press]
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