Alabama church shooting: Who is Robert Smith? Suspect, 70, is firearms dealer with VALID gun license

Smith opened fire inside St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills near Birmingham, Alabama on June 16, killing three people before he was subdued by a church member


                            Alabama church shooting: Who is Robert Smith? Suspect, 70, is firearms dealer with VALID gun license
The booking photo of Robert Smith released on June 17, 2022 (Jefferson County Jail)
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VESTAVIA HILLS, ALABAMA: Robert Findlay Smith, the suspected gunman who opened fire inside St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills near Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday, June 16, killed three people in the incident, police said. The third victim who was taken to the hospital on Thursday, June 16, died on Friday, June 17. Smith, 70, was charged with capital murder by the Jefferson County District Attorney's office on Friday, June 17 for the murder of Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale, Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham and a Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover. Smith is being held without bond, authorities said.

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The suspect showed up for a church dinner called the "Boomers Potluck" gathering attended by other church members. pulled a handgun, and fatally shot the three elderly participants, said Police Capt. Shane Ware. Smith had occasionally attended services at the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church before the shooting, Ware said. 

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Smith was reportedly sitting by himself when church member Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, invited him to sit at the table to share the meal, said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, the church founder. The suspect identified himself as “Mr. Smith” and refused to join them. He then pulled out a handgun and shot Rainey and the two other victims, said Carpenter, according to the local news outlet AL.com. This was when Jim Musgrove, another church member, hit Smith with a chair and wrestled the gun away from him, Carpenter added. Police Capt. Shane Ware said Musgrove's actions were "extremely critical in saving lives", adding, "In my opinion, he’s a hero.”

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Who is Robert Smith?

Law enforcement officials had initially refused to name the suspected church shooter, instead identifying him only as a 71-year-old white male. Later, they named the suspect, saying he was called Robert Findlay Smith and he was 70 years old. The suspect was being held at the Vestavia Hills police department after the incident and has now been booked at the Jefferson County Jail. Ware said the motive behind the shooting is still not known. Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives show Smith is a licensed gun dealer whose business address is the same as his home address. Police searched Smith's home at 4128 Sicard Hollow Road near Cahaba Heights, and had blocked off his roadway for much of Friday afternoon on June 17. Smith’s federal firearms license is valid until 2025, according to ATF records.

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Court records show Smith had once filed a lawsuit against Samford University in 2008, alleging that campus security wrongly detained him and accused him of impersonating a police officer. He had won a jury verdict and was paid damages worth $29,000. Smith has never been arrested or held for any violent crimes before the church shooting, according to court records. He received a DUI in 2016. Before that, he received a $465 fine for a DUI case in Chattanooga in 2005. He was also charged with possession of a handgun while intoxicated but that charge was dropped.

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Captain Shane Ware at Friday, June 17, press conference after the church shooting (Vestavia Hills Police Department/Facebook)

Rev. Rebecca Bridges, the church’s associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page on Friday morning, June 17. “We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”She also spoke of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, praying that "hearts will be changed, minds will be opened” and "that our culture will change and that our laws will change in ways that will protect all of us."

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St Stephen's Episcopal Church, Vestavia Hills (Source: ssechurch.org)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she was praying for the victims and community. “We want to offer our prayers for the victim’s family, the injured, and the entire church community,” Ivey said. “I am glad to hear the shooter is in custody. This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere.”

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