VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (AP) — A lone suspect fired on a small group meeting at a suburban church near one of Alabama's major cities Thursday evening, fatally wounding two people and injuring a third before being taken into custody, authorities said.
The attack occurred at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, Police Capt. Shane Ware said. He said officers rushed to the church after dispatchers got a call reporting an active shooter at the church at 6:22 p.m.
“From what we've gathered from the circumstances of this evening, a lone suspect entered a small church group meeting and began shooting. Three people were shot. Two people are deceased. One person is being treated for an unknown injury at a local hospital," Ware said at a late Thursday news briefing.
He added that a suspect was in custody and that there was “no threat to the community at this time."
At an earlier briefing, Ware had initially said one person died and two others wounded in the shooting had been hospitalized.
Meanwhile, police declined to identify the suspect or the victims or provide further details of the attack, adding another briefing was planned Friday.
The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives dispatched agents to the scene. Investigators remained hours past nightfall, with yellow police tape cordoning off the church complex and emergency police and fire vehicles with flashing lights blocking the route to the church. Nearby, people huddled and prayed.
The Rev. Kelley Hudlow, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Alabama, told broadcast outlet WBRC that the church and the community at large were stunned by the shooting.
“It is shocking. Saint Stephen’s is a community built on love and prayers and grace and they are going to come together," she said in a live interview with the station. “People of all faiths are coming together to pray to hope for healing."
She added that the church was receiving supportive messages from all over the U.S. and the world. "We need everybody out there. Pray, think, meditate and send love to this community because we are going to need all of it," she said.
The church’s website had listed a “Boomers Potluck” for Thursday night. “There will be no program, simply eat and have time for fellowship,” the flyer read.
Thursday's shooting was the latest of several high-profile shootings, including a racist attack last month that killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, and the shooting deaths May 24 of 19 children and two adults at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school in which the gunman was killed. In Southern California, one person was killed and five injured May 15 after a man authorities say was motivated by hatred of Taiwan opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners.
On Saturday thousands of people rallied in the U.S. and at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to renew calls for stricter gun control measures. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence also lobbied legislators and testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement late Thursday lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life at the church. Though she said she was glad to hear the suspect was in custody, she wrote: “This should never happen — in a church, in a store, in the city or anywhere."
Vestavia Hills is a residential community just southeast of Birmingham, one of Alabama's two most populous cities.