Gunman held after shooting in Alabama church leaves two dead

A gunman has opened fire at a dinner at a suburban Alabama church, killing two members and wounding a third before being taken into custody, authorities said.

Emergency dispatchers got a call on Thursday evening reporting an active gunman at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, said Police Captain Shane Ware.

A suspect was detained and the wounded victim was being treated in hospital, he said at a press conference late on Thursday.

Police declined to identify the suspect or the victims, or provide further details on the attack.

Church Shooting
Police barricade off the area (Butch Dill/AP)

He said he was in Greece on a pilgrimage with a group of members and trying to get back to Alabama.

“More than anything, I ask your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of the deceased,” he wrote.

“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.”

The shooting happened just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in southern California.

It came nearly seven years to the day after a white supremacist killed nine people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The shooting happened at a church in Vestavia Hills (Butch Dill/AP)

The FBI, US Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives dispatched agents to the scene.

“It is shocking. Saint Stephen’s is a community built on love and prayers and grace and they are going to come together,” the Rev Kelley Hudlow, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Alabama, told broadcast outlet WBRC.

“People of all faiths are coming together to pray to hope for healing.”

She said supportive messages were coming in from all over the US 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.

Church members gather for a prayer circle (Butch Dill/AP)

On Saturday thousands of people rallied in the US and at the National Mall in Washington to renew calls for stricter gun control measures. Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence lobbied legislators and gave evidence on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

Alabama governor Kay Ivey issued a statement late on Thursday lamenting what she called the shocking and tragic loss of life.

Although 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 south east of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s two most populous cities.

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