Three Dead After Man at Alabama Church Potluck Opens Fire

By Sarah Einselen
St. Stephens Episcopal Church
The congregation of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, AL, is mourning the deaths of three elderly members in a shooting that took place Thursday night at a church potluck.(Source: BL Harbert Intl.)

Police say a 71-year-old man at a church potluck in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, opened fire Thursday evening, killing three other elderly attendees.

Another person attending the potluck at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church tackled the shooter and held him down until officers arrived, police announced today in a news release.

Police did not identify the shooter, but said in the release that he acted alone and was in the custody of the Vestavia Hills Police Department.

Charges of capital murder are expected later today from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, police indicated. Authorities have not said what the shooter’s motive might have been.

One man, 84-year-old Walter Rainey, died at the scene. A 75-year-old woman, Sarah Yeager, died after being taken to the hospital. Both were from the Birmingham area.

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Police announced Friday afternoon that the third victim, an 84-year-old woman, had succumbed to her injuries. She was not identified by her family’s request.

Thursday’s shooting was the third church shooting reported in the last month. One person died in a shooting at a Los Angeles church on May 16, and two were killed June 3 in an Iowa church’s parking lot just after leaving a college ministry gathering.

The night of the shooting at St. Stephen’s, it had been almost exactly seven years since a gunman took nine lives at another church, Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Today marks the anniversary of the Charleston church shooting.

Vestavia Hills police said the man in custody had occasionally attended St. Stephen’s. He was seated by himself at the potluck for the Boomers Fellowship Group, so another member invited him to sit with them, the Birmingham News reported.

The man declined, a retired St. Stephen’s rector told the newspaper. The man later pulled out a concealed handgun and started shooting, hitting the three victims, according to police.

The Birmingham News reported that another man then threw a chair at the shooter and took his gun. The paper said police called that man a hero.

The Boomers Fellowship Group is one of 18 Bible studies or small groups hosted by St. Stephen’s.

The church’s rector posted a video message to Facebook on Thursday evening and emailed a response to the shootings to parishioners shortly after midnight Friday. Rector John Burrussmourned the tragedy and asked for prayers for the families of the victims, one of whom was still fighting for her life at the time.

Burruss’s voice wavered at times as he read on video from the Book of Common Prayer.

This morning, St. Stephen’s also posted resources for grieving members and addressed the tragedy in its thrice-weekly devotional.

“My heart is tired from hearing of the shooting down of yet more innocent people—and all the more because these are these sheep of our very own fold,” wrote Rebecca Bridges, associate rector for formation and outreach. “And so, all I know to do right now to rest in God’s presence, crying out in the middle of the night and now in the beginning of the new day: How long, O God?”

She then quoted the three lines of the Kyrie Eleison liturgical prayer: “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.”

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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15 thoughts on “Three Dead After Man at Alabama Church Potluck Opens Fire”

  1. Most pro-life politicians VOTE pro-gun. If you do not hold both positions, tell your Legislators that you will back them in a primary if they makes that distinction. And threaten to “primary” them, if they do not.
    Otherwise it is just “thoughts and prayers” over and over and over. (Pray for better gun-safety laws, as well as for the latest victims, too.)

    1. Rabindranath Ramcharan

      OK. What significance do you attach to pro abortion politicians being anti capital punishment?
      It’s not “just thoughts and prayers ” if you’re in a position to return fire.

  2. The Birmingham paper suggests that this nut was on the police radar, before he took his gun and murdered these old folks. Florida has a Red Flag law, Your State could have one, too..

  3. Richard Stadter

    Hey John, politics really at this time? You don’t recognize anything other than that? Not mental illness, isolation, demonic activity, other than legislation?
    May God comfort the grieving and strengthen His church.

    1. If not now, then when? Sandy Hook was 10 years ago.
      The recent 18 year old shooters could not buy beer, but could get their AR-15 legally.
      Florida passed a Red Flag law and other gun-safety measures. Your State could too.

    2. Brian Patrick

      Richard Stadter,

      I have a lot of questions about this poster John Fenner. He almost seems like a right-wing caricature of what a left-wing poster would be like doesn’t he?

  4. My wish is that someone would develop a Thoughts and Prayers app.

    That way after every mass shooting Christians would be able to program their phone to send thoughts and prayers automatically without even thinking or praying.

    1. Got to agree; and maybe the app could make an estimate of the grade of ‘tight-knitness’ the community is.

  5. Almost all of these guys had histories of threats or outright dangerous/violent behavior and I doubt that this winner will prove any exception. RIP to the victims who are now home with I AM forever.

  6. Marin Heiskell

    I hate how these types of mass shootings are becoming such a norm. I hate how we are becoming numb to it, just going through the motions after every one, then moving on to the next….
    Lord, come quickly.

  7. “Mass Public Shootings keep occurring in Gun-Free Zones: 94% of attacks since 1950”


    “If history has taught us anything, it’s that the impulse to use collective force to “do something” in the wake of a tragedy or crisis has created far more problems than it has solved.”

  8. It’s sad to see that Christians on the Right elevate gun rights to the point that it has become part of their religion.

    U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert went as far to claim last week that Jesus could have avoided crucifixion if he was armed with an AR15 assault rifle.

    She is from Colorado and supported by the Who’s Who of the Religious Right and made those remarks from the stage of Charis Bible College.

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