The gunman who killed three people at an Alabama church’s “Boomers Potluck” dinner was a 71-year-old occasional congregant — whose bloodbath was thwarted by a “hero” attendee, police said Friday.
The geezer gunman — who was not immediately identified — was known to attend services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in suburban Birmingham, where he struck late Thursday, Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware said.
After refusing to join around 25 others at the dinner, the killer — calling himself “Mr. Smith” — suddenly pulled out a handgun and shot three elderly attendees, the church’s founding pastor told AL.com.
A church member, Jim Musgrove, then hit the shooter with a chair, pinning him to the floor and wrestling away his gun, the Rev. Doug Carpenter told the local outlet.
Ware said his heroism had been “extremely critical in saving lives.”
“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” he said, without confirming the name.
Before being subdued, the gunman shot dead Walter Rainey, 84, and Sarah Yeager, 75, police said. He also hit an 84-year-old woman, who died from her injuries Friday afternoon, the Associated Press reported, adding that her name is being withheld because her family requested privacy.
The police chief refused to identify the gunman ahead of expected capital murder charges being filed. The gunman and all three victims were white.
Although the suspect was known to have “previously attended services at this church,” the police chief insisted it was too early in the investigation for him to “speculate” on a possible motive.
Despite the police chief’s claim, Carpenter told AL.com that no one at the potluck appeared to know the gunman, who had been invited to join them after sitting alone.
“We’re trying to figure out who he is,” insisted Carpenter, who founded the church in 1973 and retired in 2005.
The current pastor, the Rev. John Burruss, was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members at the time, he said in a Facebook post late Thursday.
“I am currently working to get home,” he said, saying he was “deeply moved by the radical support of love.”
His associate rector, the Rev. Rebecca Bridges, led an online prayer service 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 alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “will see what has happened at St. Stephen’s 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.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry praised the police response, saying officers “handled this crisis in an exemplary manner.”
He said his “close-knit, resilient, loving community” of 39,000 had been rocked by “this senseless act of violence.”
With Post wires