Martha lost three friends on June 16 when the only guest attending a “Boomers Potluck” party pulled out a gun.
The routine fellowship for older adults at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills turned deadly when guest Robert Smith, 70, allegedly shot and killed Bart Rainey, Sarah Yeager and Jane Pounds.
Martha has never seen any of this, and she is grateful.
“I’m not sure I could have taken 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 head.
Shock and sadness
With her back to the shooter, she first wondered why someone was shooting fireworks nearby – until she saw the face of a friend sitting across from her, a friend watching the shooter directly.
After the third shot, a member of the group – Jim Musgrove – knocked the shooter to the ground with a chair and overpowered 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 walked past.
A group of seven crept past the kitchen, down a long, dark hallway, and into part of the wooded area tucked away on campus.
The two men and five women walked towards Overton Road and passed through an apartment complex. Dog-walking residents helped secure the group in the clubhouse until authorities cleared the area four to five hours later, Martha recalled.
The two men in the group remained on the phone with 911 as they escaped from the church hall (the church’s multi-purpose gathering space).
“Our instinct was to run, but we didn’t know if he could be behind us or if there could be other shooters outside,” Martha said.
Once safe, all they could do was wait and pray. “We walked around and prayed many times,” she noted.
And while most of the seven reached out to family members, Martha found herself in a bit of a bind.
Not only did she have to leave her phone behind, but she also failed to memorize the numbers of her family members.
“They were all in my phone, so I hadn’t been worried about knowing them,” she said.
However, as her phone sat unanswered in her purse in the church hall, Martha realized that the number of media on the scene was increasing and news was spreading quickly.
A police officer helped her contact her family, but she vowed to know a family member’s number by heart from now on – and to always keep her purse close at hand. She also packs her strappy sandals, not the best shoes for a quick getaway, she said.
Martha and the other six riders went to a separate first group council of the eight who watched it all unfold, but now the two groups have come together to work through the tragedy.
And while they all have a long road to recovery ahead of them, they are determined to “take back our happy place,” Martha said.
“He took our ‘happy place’ from us,” she said. “He took it from us, so we’re going to take it back from him.”