Suspect charged with capital murder after 3 people killed at Alabama church

Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 8:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
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VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WBRC/Gray News) - Authorities are charging 70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith with capital murder of two or more persons involving the deaths of three people at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday evening.

Those capital murder warrants were issued by District Attorney Danny Carr Friday afternoon in the deaths of Walter Rainey, Sarah Yeager and Jane Pounds.

Vestavia Hills Police confirmed Rainey, Yeager and Pounds were shot at the church.

Walter Rainey, 84, of Irondale, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to officers.

As the U.S. Senate struggles to agree on gun safety legislation, yet another act of violence rocks an American community. (CNN, WBMA, WBRC)

Two other victims were taken to UAB Hospital for treatment. One of those victims - 75-year-old Sarah Yeager of Pelham - was pronounced dead shortly after.

Authorities said the third shooting victim, 84-year-old Jane Pounds, was pronounced dead Friday.

Vestavia Hills Police said Smith entered a gathering at the church and started shooting. Officers said Smith acted alone.

Robert Findlay Smith, 70, is charged with capital murder after 3 people were shot at St....
Robert Findlay Smith, 70, is charged with capital murder after 3 people were shot at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Ala. on Thursday, June 16, 2022.(Jefferson County Jail)

Smith is in custody, and is being held on no bond at the Jefferson County Jail.

The family of Walter Rainey gave the following statement:

“The family of Walter Bartlett Rainey (Bartlett) wishes to thank every person who has reached out to offer prayers and a thousand different kindnesses to ease the loss we all feel acutely today while still finding it so hard to believe. Bartlett was a husband of 61 years to Linda Foster Rainey, and 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. We also feel a sense of peace that his last hours were spent in one of his favorite places on earth, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a place that welcomes everyone with love. We are proud that in his last act on earth, he extended the hand of community and fellowship to a stranger, regardless of the outcome. Bart Rainey was strong in faith and secure in the love of his family and friends. He made everyone he encountered feel special. We hope you will honor him by extending your hand to those around you who are in need. We his wife, children, and grandchildren will miss him.”

Rev. Kelley Hudlow, Missioner for Clergy Formation for the Diocese of Alabama

Rev. Kelley Hudlow, Missioner for Clergy Formation for the Diocese of Alabama, said the event is shocking and she knows the church family needs everyone’s prayers. She said Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church is built on love.

“We’re going to cover up this community with prayer,” Hudlow said. “We need everybody out there. Whatever your faith or your belief system is to pray, to think, to mediate, to just send love to this community because they’re going to need all of it.”

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church Rector, Rev. John Burruss, posted a message on Facebook offering prayer and love. Burruss asked for continued prayers and support and he thanked everyone who already reached out with support. Burruss said he is now working to get home from a pilgrimage overseas.

Multiple police and fire departments responded to the scene, including Vestavia Police, Vestavia Fire, Hoover Police, Jefferson County law enforcement officers and others.

The original call went out at 6:22 p.m. Thursday.

The church’s website announced there was a “Boomers Potluck” planned for Thursday, starting at 5 p.m.

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