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Defendant in Alabama Church Shooting Was Firearms Dealer Who Once Crossed Paths with Federal Authorities

Robert Findlay Smith

Robert Findlay Smith

The man charged with attacking a church potluck in Alabama, was a federal firearms dealer who once crossed paths with federal authorities. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms cited Robert Findlay Smith, 70, in 2018 for shoddy record-keeping.

Agents only discovered 86 guns in his possession, contrary to there being 97 on his records, authorities noted in an report. They also said he did not take down the addresses of some customers.

Officials sent him a warning letter on Feb. 7, 2018, according to the original joint report by The Trace and USA Today on the ATF investigating gun dealers and manufacturers. The citation was for failure by a dealer to properly maintain a record of the receipt and disposition of firearms. The report noted that a letter is “the least severe action the ATF can take against a licensee with compliance issues. The letter advises the licensee to comply with regulations.”

Now Smith is sitting at the Jefferson County Jail without bond for capital murder of two or more persons. Local authorities say he is the man who opened fire at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Thursday during a “Boomers” church potluck dinner. He killed Walter Bartlett Rainey, 84, Sarah Yeager, 75, and Jane Pounds, 84, authorities said.

“My wife says he looked like he didn’t take very good care of himself,” now-retired founder of the church Rev. Douglas Carpenter told ABC News. Smith had a “hard time communicating with people,” he said.

Smith was sitting alone during the dinner, Carpenter said, according to A longtime church member invited him to sit at a table, but Smith refused, and he later pulled out a gun and opened fire, the reverend said. Church member Jim Musgrove struck Smith with a chair and took the gun from him, Carpenter said.

Police have described Smith as a sometime attendee of the church, but Carpenter said no one there knew him.

“We’re trying to figure out who he is,” he said.

Authorities have not suggested a motive.

“The family of Walter Bartlett Rainey (Bartlett) wishes to thank every person who has reached out to offer prayers and a thousand different kindnesses to ease the loss we all feel acutely today while still finding it so hard to believe,” Rainey’s family said in a statement obtained by WVTM. “Bartlett was a husband of 61 years to Linda Foster Rainey, and we are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears. We also feel a sense of peace that his last hours were spent in one of his favorite places on earth, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a place that welcomes everyone with love. We are proud that in his last act on earth, he extended the hand of community and fellowship to a stranger, regardless of the outcome. Bart Rainey was strong in faith and secure in the love of his family and friends. He made everyone he encountered feel special. We hope you will honor him by extending your hand to those around you who are in need. We — his wife, children, and grandchildren — will miss him.”

Yeager was married to the son of the first ever mayor of Pelham, Alabama.

“Like all of you, we are grieving alongside St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Cahaba Heights. The crime that happened Thursday evening in that place of worship is unfathomable and senseless,” the city said in a statement. “One of the victims, Mrs. Sarah (Sharon) Yeager, was one of our own. Her family’s roots run deep in Pelham. Mrs. Yeager was married to the late David Yeager, who was the son of Pelham’s first ever Mayor, Paul Yeager, Sr. Please join us in praying for everyone impacted, especially the families of those who tragically lost their lives.”

[Booking photo via Jefferson County Jail]

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