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71-year-old fatally shoots three pensioners at church potluck dinner in Alabama

A pensioner shot dead three guests at a church potluck dinner in a wealthy suburb of Alabama.

Police said the 71-year-old man, who had previously attended services at the St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, pulled out a handgun at the event and killed three elderly participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms.

Another guest managed to restrain him until police arrived and arrested him.

The shooting, in the affluent town of Vestavia Hills outside Birmingham, has been described as “baffling” by the community known for its family-centred lifestyle.

Two of the victims were 84, and the third was 75.

Police barricade off the area after a shooting at the Saint Stephen...s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Police barricade off the area after the shooting at the church. Pic: Associated Press

One of the victim’s families said the church was his favourite place and one that “welcomes everyone with love”. He had been attending the dinner with his wife of six decades.

“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,” a statement said.

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Local police captain Shane Ware said the person who had stepped in to stop the gunman was “a hero” – adding the actions were “extremely critical in saving lives”.

Watch: America’s gun problem explained

He said police were still investigating what motivated the suspect, who occasionally attended services at the church.

Robert Smith has been charged with capital murder.

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry said his “close-knit, resilient, loving community” had been rocked by “this senseless act of violence”.

Church members console each other after a shooting at the Saint Stephen...s Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in Vestavia, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Church members console each other. Pic: Associated Press

The town is known for top-flight schools and a suburban lifestyle, which is home to many businesspeople, doctors and lawyers.

The US is still reeling from two recent mass shootings. A racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on 14 May killed 10 black people.

The following week, 19 children and two adults were killed in an attack on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Flowers, candles and pictures are left in front of crosses with the names of victims of a school shooting, at a memorial outside Robb Elementary school, after a gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers, in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. May 28, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello
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Flowers, candles and pictures are left in front of crosses with the names of victims after the Robb Elementary school shooting

Read more:
More than 700 people shot dead in the US since the Texas school shooting

Last Saturday, thousands of people rallied across the US – including at the National Mall in Washington DC – to renew calls for stricter gun control measures.

Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence lobbied legislators and addressed Congress on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

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