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Third victim dies one day after shooting in US church, prayers and support flood in

by Tola Mbakwe

A third person has died following a shooting during a senior's potluck dinner at a church near Birmingham, Alabama, police said Friday.

The Vestavia Hills Police Department did not name the 84-year-old Hoover, Alabama, woman who died Friday, a day after the shooting at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in the city of some 40,000 people about seven miles (11 km) southeast of Birmingham.

Police identified the other victims as Walter Rainey, 84, of Irondale, Alabama, who died at the scene on Thursday; and Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, Alabama who died at a hospital on Thursday.

Authorities have yet to name the shooter, described as a 71-year-old who occasionally attended the church, or discuss his motive. During a briefing Friday, police said someone at the church subdued the shooter until police arrived to take him into custody.

The church's rector Rev John Burruss said in a statement on Friday morning: "Our hearts are broken from the horrible tragedy this evening at Saint Stephen’s. 

"More than anything, I ask your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of the deceased. These are the pillars of our community, and I cannot begin to fathom how painful this is for our entire church, and the larger community. There is much that will be shared in the coming days and weeks as we look to gather and process this tragic event". 

He added:  "I know many of you have been asking what we can do. We can pray and we can gather. People have gathered as followers of Christ for 2000 years because of the belief that God’s outstretched arms can reach all of humanity through pain and the most unfathomable loss. We gather because we know that love is the most powerful force in this world, and tonight, and in the days, months, and years that come, will hold onto that truth to know that Christ’s love will always shine".

In a separate statement Rev Burruss explained how the church was experiencing great support through the tragedy.

He said: "Over the past 24 hours, thousands of emails, phone calls, and text messages have been coming to Saint Stephen’s from all over the world, a reminder that we are deeply connected, supporting and walking with each other in faith. Neighbors are mobilizing and churches from all over Birmingham and beyond are holding us in prayer. I believe wholeheartedly that the light and love of Christ are beginning to break through this dark moment. And we will walk in love, shining that light with each other through this moment and into the days and months to come."|  

The church has had a prayer vigil, and presiding Primate and Bishop of the Episcopal Church Bishop Michael Curry led prayers for the church. The church will resume scheduled services on Sunday.

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