A single suspect fired at a small group gathering at a suburban church near one of Alabama’s major cities on Thursday night, fatally wounding two people and wounding a third before being taken into custody, officials said.
The attack took place at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, Police Captain Shane Ware said. He said officers rushed to the church after dispatchers received a call reporting an active shooter in the church at 6:22 pm.
“From what we have gathered from the circumstances of this evening, a single suspect walked into a small gathering of a church group and started shooting. Three people were shot. Two people are dead. A person is being treated for an unknown injury at a local hospital,” Ware told a news conference on Thursday.
He added that one suspect was in custody and that “there was no threat to the community at this time.”
In an earlier briefing, he had initially said that one person had died and two wounded by the shooting were hospitalized.
Meanwhile, he declined to identify the suspect or victims or provide further details of the attack, saying his next briefing would be on Friday.
The FBI, US Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives dispatched agents to the scene. Investigators remained hours after dark, with yellow police tape sealing off the church compound and emergency police and fire engines with flashing lights blocking the way to the church. Nearby, people huddled and prayed.
Reverend Kelley Hudlow, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Alabama, told broadcaster WBRC that the church and community were shocked by the shooting.
“It’s shocking. Saint Stephen’s is a community built on love, prayers and grace and they will come together,” she said in a live interview with the station. “People of all faiths are coming together to pray and hope for healing.”
She added that the church was receiving messages of support from across the US and the world. “We need everyone out there. Pray, think, meditate and send love to this community because we’re going to need it all,” she said.
The church website had listed a “Boomers Potluck” for Thursday night. “There will be no program, just eat and have time for fellowship,” read the brochure.
Al.com news agency said two injured people were rushed to UAB Hospital in Birmingham – before police reported that one of them had died.
It was the latest in a series of deadly shootings that shook the country. On Saturday, thousands of people gathered across the US and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to renew calls for stricter gun control measures following recent mass shootings from Buffalo, New York, to Uvalde, Texas. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence also lobbied lawmakers and testified on Capitol Hill this month.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued a statement mourning what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life at the church. Although she said she was happy to hear the suspect was in custody, she added: “This should never happen – in a church, in a store, in town or anywhere.”
Vestavia Hills is a residential community southeast of Birmingham, one of the two most populous cities in Alabama.