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Suspect charged with capital murder after 3 people are dead in shooting at Vestavia Hills, Ala. church

Shooting investigation at church in Vestavia Hills
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 7:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 6:19 PM EDT
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VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WBRC) - Authorities have charged 70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith with capital murder involving the deaths of three people at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills on Thursday evening, June 16, 2022.

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 Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church. The church is located on Crosshaven Drive.

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

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 say the third shooting victim, 84-year-old Jane Pounds, was pronounced dead Friday, June 17.

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

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

70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith is charged with capital murder after 3 people were shot at St....
70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith 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)

The family of Walter Rainey gave the following statement:

The City of Pelham posted the following on Facebook:

Pelham Facebook post in memory of Sarah Sharon Yeager.
Pelham Facebook post in memory of Sarah Sharon Yeager.(Source: City of Pelham/Facebook)

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.” “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.”

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

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church Rector, The Rev. John Burruss, posted a message on Facebook where he offered 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.

A message from Rector, The Rev. John Burruss SOURCE: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

A message from our Rector, The Rev. John Burruss.

Posted by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022

Area church members also gathered at the Publix parking lot in Vestavia Hills for prayer.

Vestavia Hills church members gather to pray for Saint Stephen's Episcopal
Saint Episcopal Church following shooting.
Saint Episcopal Church following shooting.(Source: Morgan Hightower/WBRC)
Saint Episcopal Church following shooting.
Saint Episcopal Church following shooting.(Source: Morgan Hightower/WBRC)
Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church.
Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church.(Source: Morgan Hightower/WBRC)

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. on Thursday, June 16, 2022.


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From Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry:

“With the tragic news that has broken this evening, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of this evening’s shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. I would also like to offer thanks on behalf of myself and our Vestavia Hills residents to the first responders from all agencies who have worked tirelessly since this incident began.”

WBRC checked the church’s website and there was a post announcing there was a Boomers Potluck planned for Thursday, June 16, 2022, starting at 5 p.m.

At approximately 6:22 PM Central Time the Vestavia Hills Police Department responded to Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church...

Posted by Vestavia Hills Police Department on Thursday, June 16, 2022

The church posted a statement on June 17, saying that one church member injured in the shooting was still hospitalized.

Senator Richard Shelby posted this tweet on social media regarding the shooting.

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