Gunman, 70, kills three people at Alabama church dinner

A 70-year-old man has shot and killed three people at a church potluck dinner in Alabama.

Police said the man, who had previously attended services at St Stephen’s Episcopal church, pulled out a handgun and fatally shot three of the participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms.

The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder on Friday, the Jefferson County district attorney announced.

The incident in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham stunned the local community. It also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent gun attacks at a Texas school, a New York grocery store and a church in California.

The Rev Doug Carpenter, St Stephen’s pastor for three decades, said the three victims were members attending a monthly dinner at the church.

Carpenter said another member, a man in his 70s, grabbed a chair and charged the gunman. “He hit him with a folding chair, wrestling 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 mugshot showed Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts to his nose and forehead.

“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Ware told a news conference on Friday.

The shooting happened just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in southern California.

It also came nearly seven years to the day after an avowed white supremacist killed nine people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

St Stephens said it would hold Sunday services as usual. “We will gather at the table that has taught so many that love is always breaking through in this world, no matter what we experience, whether it be doubt, anger, loss, grief, or death but yet also joy and life,” it said.

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