UPDATE: Birmingham man charged in fatal shooting at Saint Stephen’s

Published 1:05 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

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BIRMINGHAM – A Birmingham man has been charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting that occurred at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills on Thursday, June 16.

On Friday, June 17, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued warrants against Robert Findlay Smith, 70, following the deaths of three victims in the shooting.


Smith is being held in the Jefferson County Jail on no bond.

“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,” a press release read. “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.”

In a morning press conference on June 17, Vestavia Hills Police Department Capt. Shane Ware identified two of the deceased victims as Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, and Walter Rainey, 84, of Irondale.

Rainey died on the scene, and Yeager died at UAB Hospital, Ware said.

At 1:21 p.m. June 17, the Vestavia Hills Police Department confirmed the third victim, an 84-year-old female, had died after being transported from the scene to UAB Hospital for treatment on the evening of June 16.

“The family of the victim asks that we do not release her name for reasons of privacy,” the release read. “Our thoughts and prayers continuously go out to the victims, their families and all who are affected by this tragic event.”

The Vestavia Hills Police Department and the Vestavia Hills Fire Department responded to a call of an active shooter at 6:22 p.m. at the church, located at 3775 Crosshaven Drive in the Cahaba Heights community.

“The church was hosting a small group meeting, referred to as a Boomers Pot Luck dinner,” Ware said. “Our investigation, while ongoing, has revealed that an occasional attendee of the church that I will only identify as a white male aged 71 was at the dinner. At some point he produced a concealed handgun and began shooting, striking the three victims.”

According to Ware, another attendee at the event subdued the suspect and held him down until law enforcement arrived on the scene.

“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, is a hero,” Ware said. “I don’t know how many people were in the meeting at the time of the event, but the person that subdued him is a hero.”

Ware said the motive behind the suspect’s actions is still under investigation.

“The suspect acted alone,” Ware said. “There is no threat to the community. Detectives with the VHPD and numerous other agencies are still actively investigating this case and remain on scene at the episcopal church.”

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry expressed condolences to the victims and their families, and extended gratitude to those who have reached out in support of the community.

“Vestavia Hills is a close-knit, resilient, loving community, and I want to state – first and foremost ­– our prayers go out to the victims and families affected by this senseless act of violence,” Curry said at the press conference. “Our Vestavia Hills chaplains, along with members of St. Stephen’s and other local churches, are providing grief support for the families and the first responders that were present at the scene of this horrific act. We also greatly appreciate all of the external agencies and local businesses who have offered their assistance. Our police, with the assistance from other law enforcement agencies, handled this crisis in an exemplary manner, and I am grateful for the mutual aid and cooperation between all the agencies involved.”

Numerous local and federal agencies have offered their assistance to the VHPD during the investigation: Mountain Brook police and fire departments, Shelby County 911, Hoover police and fire departments, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, ATF, USMS, Pelham Police Department, ALEA, Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, Jefferson County Coroner’s Office and Rocky Ridge Fire Department.