Shooting at Alabama Episcopal church small group meeting leaves 3 dead

Police and firefighters responded to a shooting at St. Stephen'sEpiscopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, on June 16, 2022.
Police and firefighters responded to a shooting at St. Stephen'sEpiscopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, on June 16, 2022. | Screenshot: ABC 33/40

A shooting during a potluck dinner held at an Episcopal church in Alabama Thursday left three dead, including one member who authorities confirmed Friday has succumbed to her injuries after being rushed to a local hospital. 

Details are still emerging about a shooting that took place at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.

At a press conference Friday, Vestavia Hills Police Captain Shane Ware said that at 6:22 p.m., police officers and the Vestavia Hills Fire Department were dispatched to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, which found itself in an active shooter situation.

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"The church was hosting a small group meeting referred to as a 'Boomers Potluck Dinner,'" he said. "Our investigation, while ongoing, has revealed that an occasional attendee of the church that I will only identify as a white male, aged 71, was at the dinner. At some point, he produced a handgun and began shooting, striking three victims."

Ware identified 84-year-old Walter Rainey and 75-year-old Sarah Yeager as the victims who died at the church. An unidentified 84-year-old female was taken to a nearby hospital.

However, the Vestavia Hills Police Department posted an update on social media Friday afternoon stating that the third victim has died.

According to Ware, "Another attendee at the event subdued the suspect and held him down until law enforcement arrived." Ware described the unnamed parishioner's subdual of the shooter as "extremely critical in saving lives," characterizing him as a hero. He did not specify how many people were at the church at the time of the shooting.

"The suspect is currently in custody at the Vestavia Hills Police Department and will remain here while warrants for capital murder are issued by the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office later today," the captain said. "The suspect acted alone. There is no threat to the community."

The motive for the shooting remains unclear as the investigation continues. The suspect's name will be released as soon as the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office issues the warrants for capital murder, Ware said. 

Bishop Glenda Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama spoke about the shooting at a prayer vigil at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in nearby Mountain Brook Friday. 

"I am proud of my people for praying, for hitting their knees," she asserted. "We're going to help everybody walk through it by reminding them that we're a people of hope."

Curry assured that services will go on as scheduled throughout the diocese on Sunday and encouraged people to "come to church."

"Go to a church and pray for peace and pray for healing and pray for the love of Jesus to transform the world," she proclaimed. "When Christians are slapped, they try to reach out in love. That's what we do and we try to pray for guidance which is beyond us when things beyond us are happening."

Curry released a statement Thursday lamenting that "what felt impossible became a reality." 

"We know that we are not alone," she added. "This evening, we gathered as a community to pray. We have received calls and emails from across the country and around the world, and we are grateful for your love."

Rev. John Burruss, the rector of St. Stephen's, was in Greece at the time of the shooting and is working to return to the United States as soon as possible.

In a video message, he indicated that he was in Athens as part of a church pilgrimage with members of the St. Stephen's community.

The building is inaccessible for the time being because of the ongoing investigation, Burruss said in a statement. Bishop Curry plans to be with the congregation on Sunday morning. 

"People have gathered as followers of Christ for 2000 years because of the belief that God's outstretched arms can reach all of humanity through pain and the most unfathomable loss," the rector said.

"We gather because we know that love is the most powerful force in this world, and tonight, and in the days, months, and years that come, will hold onto that truth to know that Christ's love will always shine." 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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