A 70 year-old arms dealer – who has been charged for the murder of three elderly Alabama churchgoers at a ‘Boomers Potluck’ party – was stopped heroically by another man in his 70s using the killer’s own gun and a folding chair.
Susan Sallin, 73, who was seated at the same table at the party with the three people who died in the Thursday night shooting at St. Stephen´s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, said one of the men in the group was able to subdue the gunman.
He then managed to take the gun out of the shooter – 70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith – and pistol whip him.
‘I did see him get the gun out of the man’s hand and hit him on the head with the gun,’ Sallin added.
The Rev. Doug Carpenter, a former pastor at St. Stephen’s for three decades before he retired in 2005, said he understood the man hit the gunman with a folding chair before wrestling him to the ground and taking the gun.
‘The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,’ Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware told reporters a news conference Friday, saying that act was ‘extremely critical in saving lives.’
Smith now faces capital murder charges over Thursday’s triple-shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.
Walter Bartlett Rainey, 84, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, and Jane Pounds, 84, were killed in the shooting.
Robert Findlay Smith shown in his mugshot following his arrest. He accused of capital murder in the shooting deaths of three people at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
One of the victims, Sarah Yeager, pictured on her Facebook page
Another of the victims, Jane Pounds. Police said gunman had reportedly concealed the gun, a pistol, before opening fire at the potluck dinner
Walter ‘Bart’ Rainey, 84, pictured here with his wife Linda, was identified Friday morning as one of three seniors fatally shot St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Thursday during a church meeting
The Rev. Doug Carpenter, St. Stephen’s pastor for three decades before he retired in 2005, said he understood a man hit the gunman with a folding chair before wrestling him to the ground and taking the gun
Smith sat by himself drinking liquor, rejecting offers to join the others gathered at the potluck dinner, before gunfire shattered the peace of the evening, a survivor recalled.
‘It felt like he was disengaged,’ Sallin said.
The suspected gunman had previously attended church services and a few church gatherings for people of the Baby Boomer generation and older, but didn’t seem to interact much with others, she said.
That night, he sat at a table by himself. While wine was available at the potluck, he was drinking from what appeared to be a small bottle of Scotch, and shunned invitations to join the others.
‘I personally invited him to come and sit at our table twice because I wanted him to feel a sense of inclusion, but he did not come,’ Sallin said.
She said a woman, whose husband would be killed moments later in the shooting, ‘realized he had not fixed himself a plate and went up and offered to make him a plate.’ He declined that as well.
Church members console each other after a shooting at the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Alabama
A prayer circle formed in a parking lot near the church on Thursday night
Police said the gunman was in attendance at the church, Alabama Episcopalian, at the time of the shooting, at a meeting billed as a ‘Boomers’ Potluck’
The gathering was joyful, as the friends – who had not been able to gather as much during the pandemic – chatted about the food before them that night, their favorite cars and other light-hearted topics.
Sallin said she doesn’t remember hearing any arguing or heated conversation before the gunfire suddenly erupted.
‘I heard this loud metallic sound, and I thought a metal chair had fallen over on the floor. And then there was another sound, and another sound, and I realized it was a gun,’ she recalled.
‘People were diving for the floor. I was diving for the floor. When I got down to the floor, I realized that two of my girlfriends who were sitting at the table with me had been hit.’
Sallin said she crawled across the floor to reach her friends.
The ‘Boomers Potluck’ event was advertised on the church website
Captain Shane Ware of Vestavia Hills revealed Wednesday the currently incarcerated suspect allegedly behind the shooting at an Alabama church Thursday was a regular and attended a small church meeting before killings two fellow attendees and injuring one
‘I was trying to calm them and pat them and tell them, ‘You are not alone. You are not alone.’ That’s the message that I wanted them to get.’
Nearby, Linda Foster Rainey cradled her husband. According to a family statement, ‘he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears.’
The church had been closed off for several days as a crime scene, but the congregation returned Sunday for worship services with a message of choosing love over hate.
The Rev. John Burruss, the rector of St. Stephen’s, invoked the Christian story of the last supper, where Jesus invited the friend who would ultimately betray him.
‘There is not a doubt in my mind that Bart and Sharon and Jane would invite their Judas again and again to sit down and share a meal, because they knew God’s unconditional love,’ he said, using the first names that the three victims went by.
‘It was their guiding ethic and they fully embodied it. … They taught us that all are welcome at the table,’ Burruss said.
The shooting, which saw one other congregator injured, transpired Thursday just after 6pm, at the church in Vestavia Hills, a suburb of Birmingham
A panicked priest was filmed running from the scene at the Alabama Episcopalian church, in a suburb of Birmingham, which was hosting the neighborhood gathering