Vestavia Hills Police: Church Shooter was 70, Occasionally Attended Services

Vestavia Hills police say the man who killed two people and wounded another at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church say he was 70 years old who occasionally attended services.

Police Capt. Shane Ware did not name the suspect, who was taken into custody following the shooting Thursday night at teh church in the Birmingham suburb. Ware said prosecutors were preparing warrants to charge him with capital murder.

Ware said the man pulled a gun and opened fire during a potluck dinner attended by other church members. He killed 84-year-old Walter Rainey of Irondale and 75-year-old Sarah Yeager of Pelham, and left an 84-year-old woman wounded, before a person in the room restrained the gunman and held him until police arrived, according to Ware.

The Rev. Rebecca Bridges, the church’s associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who perpetrated the shooting.”

“We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”

Bridges, who is currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “will see what has happened at St. Stephens and Uvalde and Buffalo and in so many other places and their hearts will be changed, minds will be opened.”

“And that our culture will change and that our laws will change in ways that will protect all of us,” she added.

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.

Agents with the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives joined investigators at St. Stephen’s, which remained cordoned off Friday with yellow police tape and police vehicles with flashing lights blocking the route to the church.

People huddled and prayed nearby in the hours after the shooting.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement late Thursday lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life. Although she said she was glad to hear the suspect was in custody, she wrote: “This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere.”

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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