Gun Dealer Charged in Church Murders Spurned Invite to Join Others at Table

A 70-year-old registered gun dealer was charged with murder following a deadly church shooting that killed three people in Alabama.

Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr announced on Friday that gun dealer Robert Findlay Smith was charged with Capital Murder of Two or More Persons one day after the shooting, which happened on Thursday night during a potluck dinner at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. Smith is being held without bond.

The deceased victims were identified as Walter Rainey, 84, Sarah Yeager, 75, and Jane Pounds, 84, according to officials. Rainey was found dead at the scene when officers responded to the shooting at around 6:22 p.m. local time, while Yeager and Pounds were injured and later died after being treated at a local hospital.

Smith was registered as a firearms dealer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), operating a related business named “Original Magazines 2” at his home address. The motive behind the shooting is unclear.

Robert Findely Smith Alabama Church Shooting Suspect
Firearms dealer Robert Findlay Smith was charged Friday with the murder of three people in a Vestavia Hills, Alabama, church shooting on Thursday. Smith is pictured in this photo released by the Jefferson County Jail.
Jefferson County Jail

The Reverend Doug Carpenter, the church’s retired founder, told AL.com that the alleged killer sat alone after arriving at the potluck and claimed that he was a former church member, although none of the current church members knew who he was. Police described Smith as an “occasional attendee.”

Church members soon asked Smith to sit at a table, Reverend Carpenter said, according to AL.com. The alleged shooter declined the offer and identified himself as only Mr. Smith to Rainey before pulling out a handgun and shooting him and the other two victims.

Reverend Carpenter said that church member Jim Musgrove then hit Smith with a chair and managed to pry the gun from his hands, according to AL.com. A mugshot released by police shows Smith with a prominent black eye and other wounds to his face.

Vestavia Police Captain Shane Ware did not name Musgrove but said that “the person that subdued the suspect is in my opinion a hero” during a press conference on Friday.

While announcing the murder charge, Carr and his office said in a statement that they were “saddened by the tragedy that occurred Thursday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church,” while offering their “thoughts and prayers” to “the victims’ families and friends along with the entire Vestavia Hills community.”

In a statement issued shortly after the shooting took place, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey offered her “prayers for the victim’s family, the injured and the entire church community” after the “the shocking and tragic loss of life.”

“I am glad that the shooter is in custody,” said Ivey. “This should never happen—in a church, in a story, in the city or anywhere.”

The Reverend Kelley Hudlow of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama told NBC affiliate WVTM Thursday night that the church shooting was “scary” and not something that she thought would “happen here.”

Reverend Hudlow also expressed confidence that the community had “a lot of love and care in it” and would be able to “take care of each other” in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Newsweek reached out to the Vestavia Hills Police Department for comment.

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