A shooter charged with the murders of three elderly churchgoers at an Alabama potluck party was taken down by a spry man in his seventies who bashed him to the ground with a folding chair, snatched his gun, and pistol-whipped him into submission.
Robert Findlay Smith, a 70-year-old arms dealer, attended a “Boomers Potluck” party at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church near Birmingham, Alabama, and opened fire, killing Walter Bartlett “Bart” Rainey, 84; Sarah Yeager, 75; and Jane Pounds, 84, according to Daily Mail.
“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” said Vestavia Hills police Capt. Shane Ware at a news conference on Friday, adding that the brave man’s act was “extremely critical in saving lives.”
Susan Sallin, 73, is certainly lucky to be alive. She was seated at the same table as those who were killed.
The hero, she said, was one of the men in the group.
“I did see him get the gun out of the man’s hand and hit him on the head with the gun,” she said.
Sallin also noted Smith’s behavior prior to the shootings.
“I felt like he was disengaged,” she said.
One witness said Smith sat alone during the festivities, waving off offers to join in as he drank from a small bottle of Scotch.
(Video: Daily Mail.com)
Sallin recalled seeing Smith at past Baby Boomer-and-older events, as well as at church services, but according to her, he wasn’t one to interact with others.
“I personally invited him to come and sit at our table twice because I wanted him to feel a sense of inclusion,” she said, “but he did not come.”
The wife of victim Walter Rainey “realized [Smith] had not fixed himself a plate and went up and offered to make him a plate,” Sallin said. Smith declined.
Rainey would later die in her arms “while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears,” according to a family statement.
As for the moments leading up to the horrific event, Sallin said she didn’t recall hearing voices raised or any heated discussions that may have prompted Smith to start shooting.
“I hear this loud metallic sound, and I thought a metal chair had fallen over on the floor,” she said. “And then there was another sound, and another sound, and I realized it was a gun.”
“People were diving for the floor,” she continued. “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.”
She managed to crawl over to them in an effort to comfort them.
“I was trying to calm them and pat them and tell them, ‘You are not alone. You are not alone,'” she said. “That’s the message that I wanted them to get.”
Smith could now be facing the death penalty for the triple shootings.
While St. Stephen’s was closed as a crime scene for several days, churchgoers returned on Sunday for a service from the Rev. John Burruss, in which he spoke of the Last Supper and the friend who was invited by Jesus, only to 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. “It was their guiding ethic and they fully embodied it… They taught us that all are welcome at the table.”
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