IRONDALE, Ala. (WIAT) — For Brian Cocke, a shooting at a church Vestavia Hills Thursday struck close to home.
Cocke’s neighbor, Bart Rainey, was one of three victims who died after a “lone” gunman opened fire inside St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Cocke, a teacher, said Rainey was a “nice and caring man.” Cocke would often chit-chat with Rainey, swapping stories about teaching and the classroom. Rainey’s daughter was also a teacher.
Cocke said Rainey and his wife had always been kind, and he’d been happy to help them with things around the house when he could.
Once, when Brian Cocke was outside working outside his Irondale home, he messed up. As he removed some stubborn rose bushes, he lost his grip, and one tumbled down the hill. Before it came to a stop, the plant hit his neighbor’s young Japanese Maple, breaking it at its base. Brian looked up. His neighbor, Bart Rainey, was on his patio. He grabbed the broken maple and walked up the hill.
“Bart, I’m so sorry,” Cocke remembers saying.
Bart looked up at Cocke.
“Brian, it’s a tree,” he said. “You’re not hurt. I’m not hurt.”
It was a characteristic remark from Rainey, Cocke said.
Cocke found out that his neighbor had died in the shooting on Thursday night. He was with friends when he received a text from Rainey’s daughter. He stared at his phone in awe. They asked if he was okay. He wasn’t sure he was.
Cocke said that it’s “disgusting” that shootings like the one at St. Stephen’s continue to happen — at schools, at theatres, and even in churches.
“It’s more difficult to buy a car than a gun,” he said. “For a car, you need registration, you need a license, you have to learn how to use it. For guns, you have to find a ride to Walmart.”
He said that he still has many questions about what happened Thursday.
“What was the motive?” Cocke asked.
Law enforcement has not yet identified the suspected shooter, but Vestavia police on Friday focused their attention on the home of a registered gun dealer in the Birmingham suburb.
Warrants for capital murder are expected to be filed in the case today, police have said.