Robert Findlay Smith was identified as the 70-year-old man accused of shooting three people to death at an Alabama church.
Captain Shane Ware with the Vestavia Hills Police Department wrote in a statement on Facebook that the active shooter incident occurred at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022.
It’s the nation’s latest mass shooting after massacres in Uvalde, Texas, in Buffalo, New York, and in other locations. Smith’s name was released by the District Attorney, who is charging him with capital murder, according to a news release.
“On June 17, 2022, warrants were issued against Robert Findlay Smith for Capital Murder of Two or More Persons involving the deaths of Walter Rainey, Sarah Yeager, and Jane Pounds. Robert Findlay Smith is being held on a no bond,” it read. Smith is from Birmingham, Alabama.
Although the DA gave his name as Robert Findlay Smith, online records spell his name as Robert Findaley Smith.
“District Attorney Danny Carr and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office is saddened by the tragedy that occurred Thursday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and friends along with the entire Vestavia Hills community. We appreciate all the law enforcement agencies, first responders, and medical personnel who responded. Please keep the victims’ families and the community of Vestavia Hills in your prayers over the coming days.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect, Whose Home Lists a Registered Gun Dealing Business, Was Attending a ‘Boomers Pot Luck Dinner,’ Police Say
At approximately 6:22 p.m., the Vestavia Hills Police Department and The Vestavia Hills Fire Department were dispatched to the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church located at 3775 Crosshaven Drive Vestavia Hills, Alabama, “in the Cahaba Heights Community on a call of an Active Shooter,” Ware wrote.
“The church was hosting a small group meeting, referred to as a Boomers Pot Luck dinner.”
He wrote that the suspect was “an occasional attendee of the church.” He said he was a white male.
“At some point he produced a concealed handgun and began shooting striking the three victims.”
According to CBS42, Smith’s home lists to a registered gun dealer, Original Magazines, a business with a federal firearms license that is valid until 2025.
2. The Deceased Victims Were an Elderly Man & Two Women
According to Ware’s release, the victims are identified as:
Walter Rainey, a white male age 84 from Irondale, Alabama. He died at the scene. Rainey’s family released this statement to WSFA-TV:
The family of Walter Bartlett Rainey (Bartlett) wishes to thank every person who has reached out to offer prayers and a thousand different kindnesses to ease the loss we all feel acutely today while still finding it so hard to believe. Bartlett was a husband of 61 years to Linda Foster Rainey, and we are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears. We also feel a sense of peace that his last hours were spent in one of his favorite places on earth, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a place that welcomes everyone with love. We are proud that in his last act on earth, he extended the hand of community and fellowship to a stranger, regardless of the outcome. Bart Rainey was strong in faith and secure in the love of his family and friends. He made everyone he encountered feel special. We hope you will honor him by extending your hand to those around you who are in need. We – his wife, children, and grandchildren – will miss him.
Sarah Yeager, white female age 75 from Pelham, Alabama. She died at UAB Hospital.
An 84-year-old white woman who was not named was wounded and was initially at the hospital. She is from Hoover, Alabama. However, police wrote on June 17,
It is with great sadness that the Vestavia Hills Police Department reports the passing of the third shooting victim from Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church. An 84-year-old white female was transported, from the scene, to UAB hospital for treatment on the evening of June 16, 2022. The family of the victim asks that we do not release her name for reasons of privacy. Our thoughts and prayers continuously go out to the victims, their families and all who are affected by this tragic event.
However, the DA identified her as Jane Pounds.
A woman whose family attends the church expressed shock on Facebook writing, “This has been such a shock for the church members and community. I am overwhelmed and so grateful for all of the texts and calls asking if my family and I are OK.”
The woman said her mom was going to attend the Boomers group but was out of town. “This is so surreal-my beloved church Saint Stephens Episcopal Church I have attended my entire life has been the victim of yet another mass shooting crime,” she wrote.
The Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry issued the following statement, according to WVTM13:
With the tragic news that has broken this evening, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of this evening’s shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. I would also like to offer thanks on behalf of myself and our Vestavia Hills residents to the first responders from all agencies who have worked tirelessly since this incident began.
3. An Attendee at the Church Event ‘Subdued the Suspect’
According to Ware, the incident produced a hero.
“Another attendee at the event subdued the suspect and held him down until law enforcement arrived,” he wrote.
“The suspect is currently in custody at the Vestavia Hills Police Department and will remain there while warrants for Capital Murder are issued by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.”
He noted, “The suspect acted alone, there is no threat to the community. Detectives with the VHPD and other agencies are still actively investigating this case and remain on-scene at the Episcopal Church. The VHPD would like to thank our local and federal partners that assisted in this investigation.”
Captain Shane Ware told AL.com, “It was extremely critical in saving lives. In my opinion, he’s a hero.”
4. Smith Was Arrested on a DUI Charge in 2016 & He Sued Samford University & the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2008 After an Officer Detained Him While He Was Carrying a Gun
According to public records, Smith has a criminal record, including a 2016 charge of driving under the influence. He does not have a history of felony or violent crimes in Alabama, public records show. He pleaded guilty tot he DUI charge and was fined and sent to driving school, Alabama court records show. He was also arested in 2005 on a charge of possession of a handgun while intoxicated, but the charge was dropped, according to AL.com.
In 2008, Smith filed a lawsuit against Samford University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a UAB police officer, Jeremy Burchfield, accusing him of illegally detaining Smith during an incident on the Samford University campus, AL.com reprots. He was accused of ilegally carrying a firearm on campus and impersonating a police officer by carrying a badge, but said in the lawsuit the accusations were fabricated.
Smith’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, according to AL.com, “Many of Plaintiff’s customers are law enforcement personnel and merchants who sell firearms in Jefferson County and outside of Jefferson County throughout the state.” The newspaper reports that Smith won a jury verdict and received $29,000 in damages from Burchfield in that case.
5. Police Said on a Radio Call During the Shooting That They Knew the Suspect
According to AL.com and police radio transmissions obtained by Heavy, officers responding to the shooting said they knew the gunman after speaking to witnesses. Police quickly identified a vehicle parked outside of the church as belonging to the shooter and traced it to a local address. But authorities have not detailed what interactions they have had with Smith in the past.
“Any past interactions involving this suspect are currently being investigated by numerous agencies. It would be premature for me at this time to go into that topic,” Ware told AL.com. “The suspect has previously attended services at this church but as far as the motive behind this, it’s still being looked into by many agencies. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speculate.”
Smith was booked into the Jefferson County jail, where he is being held without bail on the capitol murder charges, according to online jail records. A court date has not immediately been set for Smith and it was not clear if he has hired an attorney who could comment on his behalf.