Church shooting survivor: Gunman ‘disengaged’, sitting alone

One survivor recalled that the 70-year-old suspected gunman shot and killed three people at an Alabama church, sat alone drinking and refused an offer to join others at the potluck dinner before gunfire broke the night’s commotion. calm.

“It feels like he’s out of work,” said Susan Sallin, 73, who sat at the same table at the “Boomers Dinner” with the three who died Thursday night. shooting Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vistavia Hills, Alabama.

She said the suspected shooter had previously attended church services and some church gatherings for Baby Boomers and above, but did not appear to have much interaction with others. That night, he sat alone at a table. Although there was alcohol at the dinner, he was drinking what appeared to be a small bottle of Scotch and avoided inviting others to join him.

“I personally invited him to come and sit at our table twice because I wanted him to have a sense of inclusion, but he didn’t come,” Sarin said. She said one woman, whose husband was to be killed shortly after the shooting, “realized he didn’t have a plate for himself and came forward and offered to make him a plate.” He, too, declined.

Robert Findlay Smith, 70, has been charged with three murders in the shooting. Walter Bartlett Rainey, 84, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, and another woman were killed in the shooting. Police have not released the name of the third victim, but friends refer to her as Jane.

The party was fun, as friends who couldn’t gather during the pandemic chatted about the food that was in front of them that night, their favorite cars and other light-hearted topics. Sarin said she doesn’t recall hearing any arguments or heated conversations before the gunshots erupted.

“I heard this loud metal sound and I thought a metal chair was falling on the floor. Then another sound, another sound, and I realized it was a gun,” she recalls. “People were diving. I was diving. When I fell to the ground, I realized two girlfriends who were sitting at the table with me had been hit.”

Sarin said she crawled across the floor to find her friend. “I try to calm them down, pat them and tell them, ‘You’re not alone. You’re not alone.’ That’s the message I want them to get.”

Nearby, Linda Foster Rainey holds her husband. “He died in her arms while she whispered words of comfort and love in his ear,” according to a family statement.

One of the men, in his 70s, managed to subdue the gunman, Sarin said. “I did see him take the gun from the man and hit him in the head with it,” she said.

St. Stephen’s Rev. Doug Carpenter, who served as a priest for 30 years before retiring in 2005, said he understood the man hit the gunman with a folding chair before throwing him to the ground and picking up the gun.

“In my opinion, the person who subdued the suspect is a hero,” Vestavia Hills Police Capt. Shane Ware told reporters at a news conference on Friday, saying the act was “extremely important to saving lives.”

The church was closed for several days as a crime scene, but the congregation returned to worship on Sunday with a message of choosing love over hate.

The Rev. John Burrus, headmaster of St. Stephen, cites the story of the Christian Last Supper, where Jesus invited friends who would eventually betray him.

“There is no doubt that Bart, Sharon and Jane will invite their Judas to sit down and share a meal time and time again because they know God’s unconditional love,” he said, using the names of the three victims. go through.

“It’s their guiding ethic, and they embody that. … They tell us that all are welcome at the dinner table,” Burruss said.

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