NATIONAL NEWS

Church shooting survivor: Gunman ‘disengaged,’ sat alone

Jun 20, 2022, 3:06 PM | Updated: Jun 25, 2022, 8:54 pm

Robert Smith accused in shooting...

This booking photograph released by the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Ala., shows Robert Findlay Smith, who was charged with capital murder on Friday, June 17, 2022, in a shooting that killed three people at an Alabama church. (Jefferson County Jail via AP)

(Jefferson County Jail via AP)

The 70-year-old suspected gunman in a shooting that killed three people at an Alabama church sat by himself drinking liquor, rejecting offers to join the others gathered at the potluck dinner, before gunfire shattered the peace of the evening, a survivor recalled.

“It felt like he was disengaged,” Susan Sallin, 73, said. Sallin was seated at the same table at the “Boomers Potluck” with the three people who died in the Thursday night shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

Gunman kills 3 seniors over potluck dinner at Alabama church

The suspected gunman had previously attended church services and a few church gatherings for people of the Baby Boomer generation and older, but didn’t seem to interact much with others, she said. That night, he sat at a table by himself. While wine was available at the potluck, he was drinking from what appeared to be a small bottle of Scotch, and shunned invitations to join the others.

“I personally invited him to come and sit at our table twice because I wanted him to feel a sense of inclusion, but he did not come,” Sallin said. She said a woman, whose husband would be killed moments later in the shooting, “realized he had not fixed himself a plate and went up and offered to make him a plate.” He declined that as well.

Robert Findlay Smith, 70, is charged with capital murder in the shooting that killed three people. Walter Bartlett Rainey, 84, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, and another woman were killed in the shooting. Police did not release the name of the third victim, but friends referred to her as Jane.

The gathering was joyful, as the friends — who had not been able to gather as much during the pandemic — chatted about the food before them that night, their favorite cars and other light-hearted topics. Sallin said she doesn’t remember hearing any arguing or heated conversation before the gunfire suddenly erupted.

“I heard this loud metallic sound, and I thought a metal chair had fallen over on the floor. And then there was another sound, and another sound, and I realized it was a gun,” she recalled. “People were diving for the floor. I was diving for the floor. When I got down to the floor, I realized that two of my girlfriends who were sitting at the table with me had been hit.”

Sallin said she crawled across the floor to reach her friends. “I was trying to calm them and pat them and tell them, ‘You are not alone. You are not alone.’ That’s the message that I wanted them to get.”

Nearby, Linda Foster Rainey cradled her husband. According to a family statement, “he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears.”

Sallin said one of the men in the group, who is also in his 70s, was able to subdue the gunman. “I did see him get the gun out of the man’s hand and hit him on the head with the gun,” she said.

The Rev. Doug Carpenter, St. Stephen’s pastor for three decades before he retired in 2005, said he understood the man hit the gunman with a folding chair before wrestling him to the ground and taking the gun.

“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware told reporters a news conference Friday, saying that act was “extremely critical in saving lives.”

The church had been closed off for several days as a crime scene, but the congregation returned Sunday for worship services with a message of choosing love over hate.

The Rev. John Burruss, the rector of St. Stephen’s, invoked the Christian story of the last supper, where Jesus invited the friend who would ultimately betray him.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that Bart and Sharon and Jane would invite their Judas again and again to sit down and share a meal, because they knew God’s unconditional love,” he said, using the first names that the three victims went by.

“It was their guiding ethic and they fully embodied it. … They taught us that all are welcome at the table,” Burruss said.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Gilbert Carrasquillo (GC Images/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)...

Cindy Von Quednow, CNN

Former ‘General Hospital’ actor Johnny Wactor fatally shot in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former “General Hospital” actor Johnny Wactor was fatally shot in downtown Los Angeles while interrupting thieves Saturday, according to his agent and CNN affiliate KABC. The actor, who played Brando Corbin in the hospital soap opera, was shot as he left work early Saturday morning, his mother told KABC, In a […]

15 minutes ago

A man looks at a damaged car after a tornado hit the day before, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Valley Vi...

Bruce Schreiner and Julio Cortez, The Associated Press

At least 21 dead in Memorial Day weekend storms that devastated several US states

A series of powerful storms swept over the central and southern U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, killing at least 21 people and leaving a wide trail of destroyed homes, businesses and power outages.

31 minutes ago

President Joe Biden, left, joined by, from left, Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Ll...

Zeke Miller, AP White House Correspondent

Biden says each generation has to ‘earn’ freedom, in solemn Memorial Day remarks

President Joe Biden is marking Memorial Day with a pledge the United States will continue the work of the nation’s fallen toward creating a more perfect union.

2 hours ago

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - MAY 24: Travelers make their way through Ronald Reagan Washington National Ai...

Associated Press

Friday’s preholiday travel breaks the record for the most airline travelers screened at US airports

A record was broken ahead of the Memorial Day weekend for the number of airline travelers screened at U.S. airports.

3 hours ago

FILE: Bill Walton is seen during the Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game during the 2022 NBA All-St...

Tim Reynolds, AP Basketball Writer

Bill Walton, Hall of Fame player who became a star broadcaster, dies at 71

Bill Walton, who starred for John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins before becoming one of the biggest stars of basketball broadcasting, has died.

3 hours ago

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, and Air...

KSL TV

President Biden lays wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery

President Joe Biden is expected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and participate in a ceremony in the Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Church shooting survivor: Gunman ‘disengaged,’ sat alone