VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. — A gunman opened fire at a potluck dinner inside a suburban Alabama church, killing two members and wounding a third before being taken into custody, authorities said.
Emergency dispatchers got a call about 6:20 p.m. Thursday reporting an active shooter at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, said Police Capt. Shane Ware.
A suspect was detained and the wounded victim was being treated at a hospital, Ware said at a news conference late Thursday. Police declined to identify the suspect or the victims, or provide further details on the attack. Another briefing was planned Friday.
The event was a “Boomers Potluck” gathering inside the church, according to messages posted on the church’s Facebook page by pastor the Rev. John Burruss. He said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and trying to get back to Alabama.
“More than anything, I ask your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of the deceased. These are the pillars of our community, and I cannot begin to fathom how painful this is for our entire church, and the larger community,” he wrote.
The Rev. Rebecca Bridges, the church’s associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who perpetrated the shooting.”
“We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”
Bridges, who is currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that elected officials in Washington and Alabama “will see what has happened at St. Stephens and Uvalde and Buffalo and in so many other places and their 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,” she added.
There have been several high-profile shootings in May and June, starting with a racist attack on May 14 that killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The following week, a gunman massacred 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Thursday’s 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 comes 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.
Agents with the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives joined investigators at the scene, which remained cordoned off Friday with yellow police tape and police vehicles with flashing lights blocking the route to the church.
People huddled and prayed nearby in the hours after the shooting.
“It is shocking. Saint Stephen’s is a community built on love and prayers and grace and they are going to come together,” the Rev. Kelley Hudlow, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Alabama, told broadcast outlet WBRC. “People of all faiths are coming together to pray to hope for healing.”
She said supportive messages were coming in from all over the U.S. and the world. “We need everybody out there. Pray, think, meditate and send love to this community because we are going to need all of it,” she said.
On Saturday thousands of people rallied in the U.S. and at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to renew calls for stricter gun control measures. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence lobbied legislators and testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement late Thursday lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life. Although she said she was glad to hear the suspect was in custody, she wrote: “This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere.”
Vestavia Hills is a residential community just southeast of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s two most populous cities.