A 70-year-old man shot and killed three people at a church potluck dinner in Alabama, police have said.
Officers 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 as she whispered words of love in his ear.
One of the church members rushed at the gunman, struck him with a chair and held him until police arrived, a former pastor said.
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 a community known for its family-orientated lifestyle. It also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent gun attacks at a Texas school, a New York grocery store and another church in California.
The Rev Doug Carpenter, St Stephen’s pastor for three decades, said all 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 Friday, saying that act was “extremely critical in saving lives”.
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 Southern California church.
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.
A message posted by St Stephens said it would hold Sunday services, adding: “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.“