A 70-year-old man shot and killed three people during a potluck dinner at a church in Alabama, police said.
Officers said the man, who had previously attended services at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, pulled out a handgun and shot and killed three of the attendees, one of whom died in his arms woman as she whispered words of love in his ear.
One of the church members rushed at the shooter, hit him with a chair and held him down until police arrived, a former pastor said.
The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder on Friday, the Jefferson County District Attorney announced.
The incident in a wealthy Birmingham suburb has stunned a community known for its family-oriented lifestyle. It has also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent gun attacks at a school in Texas, a grocery store in New York and another church in California.
The Reverend Doug Carpenter, pastor of St Stephen for three decades, said the three victims were members attending a monthly church dinner.
Carpenter said another member, a 70-year-old man, grabbed a chair and charged at the shooter.
“He hit him with a folding chair, tackled him to the ground, took the gun from him and hit him in the head with his own gun,” he said.
Church members held the suspect until police arrived, Capt Shane Ware said. A police photo showed Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts to his nose and forehead.
“The person who subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Ware said at a news conference on Friday, saying the act was “extremely critical in saving lives.”
Thursday’s shooting came just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a Southern California church.
It also came nearly seven years to the day after an avowed white supremacist killed nine people during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
A message posted by St Stephens said he would hold Sunday services, adding: ‘We will gather at the table which has taught so many that love always pierces through this world, no matter what we are going through, that it is doubt, anger, loss, sorrow or death, but also joy and life.“