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HomeLatest NewsSt. Stephen's church shooting: 84-year-old third victim dies - USA TODAY

St. Stephen’s church shooting: 84-year-old third victim dies – USA TODAY

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A third victim in the Thursday shooting at a church outside Birmingham, Alabama, has died, authorities said Friday.

An 84-year-old woman died after being rushed to a hospital following the shooting, where a man who occasionally attended Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church pulled out a handgun during a potluck dinner, according to police.

Two other people also died.

Walter Rainey, 84, was found dead at the scene of the shooting in Vestavia Hills, just south of Birmingham, Capt. Shane Ware of the Vestavia Hills Police Department said at a Friday news conference. Sarah Yeager, 75, died after being taken to a hospital, he said.

Police said the suspected gunman, who was arrested Thursday, occasionally attended services at the church. He was identified as Robert Findlay Smith and charged with capital murder by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office on Friday. Ware said the suspect was “subdued” by another attendee of the potluck. 

Public records and reporting from The Associated Press say Smith is 70 years old. Police previously identified the suspected gunman as a 71 year-old male.

Vestavia Hills is a suburb of about 40,000 residents and is located about seven miles south of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s two most populous cities. 

Thursday’s shooting is among a rash of recent high-profile shootings nationwide, including when four people were killed at an Oklahoma hospital; when 19 children and two teachers were gunned down at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; and when 10 Black people were killed in a shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

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What happened in Vestavia Hills?

Officers responded to active shooter reports at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church around 6:22 p.m. Thursday, Ware said at a news conference.

The suspect was an attendee at a small church meeting, called a Boomers Potluck Dinner, police said.

“At some point, he produced a handgun and began shooting,” Ware said, adding the suspect appeared to be acting alone. There were no additional threats to the community, he said.

Another attendee of the potluck subdued the suspect and held him down until law enforcement arrived, police said.

“It was really critical in saving lives,” Ware said. “The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero.”

Ware said he does not know how many people were at the meeting at the time of the shooting.

Who is the suspect?

The suspect was identified as Robert Findlay Smith by the district attorney’s office.

Ware said the suspect previously attended services at the church, but investigators are still looking into possible motives.

Ware said, “any past interactions involving the suspect are currently still being investigated by numerous agencies,” including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco.

The Vestavia Hills Police Department said they were executing a search warrant in connection to the shooting Friday. Police distributed a mugshot of Smith with a black eye and cuts on his face.

Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show Smith is a licensed gun dealer whose business address is the same as his home address.  

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Who were the victims?

Walter Rainey, 84, from Irondale, Alabama, was found dead at the scene of the shooting. Sarah Yeager, 75, from Pelham, Alabama, died after being taken to a hospital, police said.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press by his daughter, Melinda Rainey Thompson, Rainey’s family said that he died in his wife’s arms.

“We are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears,” the statement reads.

The 84-year-old woman who died Friday was not immediately identified. Vestavia Hills police said in a Facebook post that her name was not being release because her family requested privacy.

Reeling from the shooting, community members gathered Thursday for a prayer vigil to honor the victims of the shooting, a local ABC News channel reported. In St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s parking lot, they joined hands and formed a circle as they prayed.

“I am so sad I’m so prayerful for the families that was affected by this,” Lynda Montana, who has been a member of the church for 20 years, told the news station. “I think our whole church family will be affected by this I’m just in shock and disbelief.”

Multiple prayer vigils are planned for Friday at the church, the station reported.

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Church leaders, officials react to shooting

The Rev. Kelley Hudlow, who works in the office of Bishop Glenda Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, told WBRC-TV that the shooting left the church stunned. Still, she said community members are supporting each other through the loss.

“Saint Stephen’s is a community built on love and prayers and grace and they are going to come together,” Hudlow told the station. “People of all faiths are coming together to pray to hope for healing.”

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey offered prayers to the victims and the community in a statement Thursday.

“This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere,” she said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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