Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
Thursday, what was meant as an evening of fellowship at an Episcopal church in a suburban community near Birmingham, Alabama, became a scene of tragedy when a gunman opened fire inside the church, killing two people and wounding a third before being taken into custody.
The shooting occurred at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills just after 6 p.m. Police Capt. Shane Ware confirmed the shooting and that a suspect had been detained, but offered few details about the shooter, victims, or motives.
“From what we’ve gathered from the circumstances of this evening, a lone suspect entered a small group church meeting and began shooting,” Ware said.
The Rev. John Buruss, rector of St. Stephen’s, was not at the church Thursday as he was in Greece for a church pilgrimage; but he posted a brief video on Facebook in which he expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of sympathy and support.
“I’m deeply moved by the radical support of love from many people reaching out from all over the country, our clergy, our first responders who are gathered now with families at St. Stephen’s,” Buruss said. “In the coming days, in the coming hours, we’ll have announcements about updates of ways to pray and to gather. That is what we do as people of faith. We come together in the midst of life and death.”
Buruss, who said he “didn’t have words to say,” then offered words from the Book of Common Prayer, the 473-year-old text in which is found numerous sacraments and prayers of the Episcopalian denomination, as he asked for God’s comfort.
Rev. Kelley Hudlow, Missioner for Clergy Formation for the Diocese of Alabama, asked for prayer.
“We’re going to cover up this community with prayer,” Hudlow said during an interview with WBRC-TV, a Birmingham Fox affiliate. “We need everybody out there. Whatever your faith or your belief system is to pray, to think, to mediate, to just send love to this community because they’re going to need all of it.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey confirmed she was aware of the incident and saddened by what had transpired.
“We want to offer our prayers for the victim’s family, the injured and the entire church community,” Ivey said in a statement. “I am glad to hear the shooter is in custody. This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere.”
Vestavia Hills, which is located southeast of Birmingham, is a mostly residential area with a population of just under 40,000.