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Birthday party turns deadly as shooter kills 4, wounds 28 others in Alabama

By Sarah May
|
April 17, 2023

A terrifying scene erupted when a mass shooting occurred at a sweet sixteen birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama on Saturday, leaving four dead and upwards of 28 injured, as AL.com reports.

One of those killed in the incident was a beloved high school football standout who was at the venue to help celebrate his sister's birthday, according to the Associate Press, and his mother was also among those injured.

Festivities take tragic turn

According to authorities, the shooting happened at just after 10:30 p.m. at Mahogany's Masterpiece dance studio in the small Tallapoosa County town.

Keenan Cooper, the DJ at the party, indicated his belief that multiple shooters may have been on the scene, as NBC News noted.

Cooper also recounted that the party – said to have had chaperones as well as security – had been paused once earlier in the evening, when someone with a gun had been told to leave.

However, roughly an hour later, the sounds of gunshots were heard, and though Cooper said he attempted to get as many attendees as he could out of harm's way, he added, “[t]he building was packed.”

Lives cut short

The four individuals killed in the shooting have been identified as Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, KeKe Nicole Smith, Marsiah Emmanuel Colins, and Corbin Dahmontry Holston.

Dowdell, brother of the birthday party's honoree, was a star athlete who recently committed to play football at Jacksonville State University, and he was also remembered as a state track and field standout as well as a honor student, as AL.com noted.”

Dadeville High assistant football, basketball, and track coach Michael Taylor said of Dowdell, “As good a[n]...athlete as he was, he was just as good a person. He always worked hard, was humble...all the time. He hung on every word the coaches gave him. Whatever you told him, he trusted it and did everything you asked him to do.”

Taylor had similar words of praise for Smith, who served as a manager for the high school's basketball and track teams, and an athlete herself until suffering a knee injury. “Just like Phil, she was very, very humble, and she had this huge smile like Phil had.... she was just full of life.”

Community reeling

Now mourning four young lives taken far too soon and hoping for the full recovery of the dozens of injured partygoers, a number of whom were reported to be in critical condition, the tight-knit community in and around Dadeville remains in shock and disbelief over Saturday's events.

Ben Hayes, local pastor and chaplain of the Dadeville High School football squad, has been offering support to family members of the injured as well as students whose friends died in the incident and said, “It's a very close, tight knit community. Everybody knows everybody. That's why this is so difficult. I knew these kids personally, most people did.”

Jason Whetstone, leader of the local Christian Faith Fellowship, said, according to the Associated Press, “All of our hearts are hurting right now. We're just trying to pull together to find strength and comfort.”

“We are a loving community. We're pulling together in every aspect to comfort each and every one of these children, the teachers, all of the community,” Whetstone added.

Investigation underway

As of Monday, little had been made public about a possible suspect or motive in Saturday night's carnage, with Jeremy J. Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency imploring anyone with information to come forward as soon as possible, as CNN noted.

“I cannot stress this enough: We absolutely need you to share it,” Burkett declared.

Describing the current state of the investigation as “fluid,” Burkett emphasized to potential witnesses, “Even the smallest detail can be important.”

The law enforcement officer also stated, according to AL.com, “This is going to be a long-complicated process. We're going to continue to work through in a very methodical way, to go through this scene, to look at the facts, and ensure that justice is brought to bear for the families.”