Martha lost three friends June 16 when the lone guest attending a “Boomers Potluck” evening gathering pulled out a gun.
The routine senior adult fellowship at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, turned deadly as the guest, 70-year-old Robert Smith, allegedly shot and killed Bart Rainey, Sarah Yeager and Jane Pounds.
Martha never saw any of it, and she’s thankful.
“I’m not sure I could have handled it,” she said. “I still hear the boom, boom … boom, and I can still smell the smoke. The scene plays over and over in my mind.”
Shock and sadness
With her back to the shooter, she initially wondered why someone was shooting fireworks nearby — that is until she saw the look on a friend’s face sitting across from her, a friend who was looking directly at the shooter.
After the third shot, a group member — Jim Musgrove — knocked the shooter to the floor with a chair and subdued him.
The remaining members of the group scattered, hiding wherever they could. Linda Rainey sat on the floor, lovingly holding her husband, Bart, in her lap as he passed.
A group of seven slipped out near the kitchen, down a long, dark hallway and out into part of the wooded area nestling the campus.
The two men and five women maneuvered their way to the main road and across the street to an apartment complex. Residents walking their dog helped secure the group in the clubhouse until authorities cleared the scene four to five hours later, Martha recalled.
Both men in the group stayed on the phone with 911 as they escaped Parish Hall (the all-purpose gathering space at the church).
“Our instinct was to run, but we didn’t know if he might be behind us or if there might be more shooters outside,” Martha said.
Once safe, all they could do was wait and pray. “We circled up and prayed several times,” she noted.
And while most of the seven were contacting family members, Martha found herself in a bit of a quandary.
Not only did she have to leave her phone behind, but she also didn’t have any of her family members’ numbers memorized.
“They were all in my phone, so I had not worried about knowing them,” she said.
However, as her phone sat unanswered inside her handbag in Parish Hall, Martha realized the number of media outlets on the scene was growing and news was spreading quickly.
Help at the scene
A police officer helped her contact her family, but she vowed to know a family member’s number by heart from here on out — and to always keep her handbag within reach. She’s also packing up her strappy sandals, not the best shoes for a quick getaway, she said.
Martha and the other six runners went through an initial group counseling separate from the eight who watched it all play out, but now the two groups have come together as one to work through the tragedy.
And while they all have a long journey of healing ahead of them, they are determined to “take back our happy place,” Martha said.
“He took our ‘happy place’ away from us,” she said. “He took it from us, so we are going to take it back from him.”
For more information on training involving how to respond to an active shooter, click here. Click here and here for information on church security.