At least four people were tragically killed and twenty-eight more wounded after a shooting at a teenager’s birthday party in Alabama. Residents of Dadeville, a small town of just three thousand, were struck with the devastating news on Saturday that their families and community will never be the same again. According to a local pastor, and police, the suspect who committed the gruesome massacre is still at large, and the community urges the killer to turn himself in. No details have been released about the suspect as of Monday morning, and local authorities are scrambling to bring the perpetrator to justice. President Biden has already latched onto the shooting — using the moment to advertise his efforts to institute gun control measures nationwide and urging his party to back him on the endeavor.
By Alexandra Fouche & Nadine Yousif; April 17, 2023
Rising sports star Phil Dowdell has been named as one of the victims in a mass shooting at a teenager’s birthday party in Alabama at the weekend.
At least four people between the ages of 17 and 23 were killed at the party in the small city of Dadeville on Saturday.
Twenty-eight more were injured, authorities said, some critically.
Police have not said whether a suspect is in custody.
The city’s local pastor told the BBC the gunman was still at large and urged him to turn himself in.
On Monday, the flags outside Dadeville High School flew at half mast for the four victims killed on Sunday, identified as 18-year-old Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, 17-year-old Keke Nicole Smith, 19-year-old Emmanuel ‘Siah’ Collins and 23-year-old Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, according to local media.
Mr Dowdell was attending his sister Alexis’ 16th birthday at a dance studio in the centre of the town.
He was due to graduate from the local high school to go to Jacksonville State University on an American football scholarship.
His mother is also reported to have been injured in the incident.
His grandmother, Annette Allen, told the Montgomery Advertiser local newspaper: “He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face.”
His sports coach at the local high school, Roger McDonald, described him as an outstanding young man.
“Everybody loved Phil. He always had a smile on his face. He always spoke to everyone. He was the ideal kid that you want to coach. He wasn’t just a great athlete. He was a great kid,” he told the paper.
One of his friends who played with him on the high school football team, where Phil was the wide receiver, told the BBC: “Phil to me was an amazing friend. God’s got an angel.”
Relatives and friends of Ms Smith said she was a once-promising 17-year-old athlete who was also about to graduate from the town’s high school.
Ben Hayes, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dadeville and also chaplain at the school football team, knew many of the students at the party.
He told the BBC he received a phone call at the weekend telling him two students had been killed and several injured, and went to the local hospital. When he arrived, there were about 250 people in the car park waiting for news.
He says Dadeville – which has just over 3,000 residents – is a very close-knit community so “this tragedy affects us very deeply”.
There were about 50 people at the party, he said, when “someone from outside the community” came in and began shooting. He urged the perpetrator to turn himself in as his community needed closure.
Jimmy Frank Goodman Sr, the mayor of Dadeville, told the BBC he was in his bed asleep when he was notified about the shooting. When he got to the hospital, it was “like I was in a dream”, he said.
“It was chaos over there,” he said. “There were people crying, bodies going into the emergency room and bloody clothes on the ground.”
He said the scene was worse than what he witnessed during his time serving in Vietnam.
“I was in the Marine Corps and seen things and had to do things that seem unbearable. But compared to this, Vietnam was a cakewalk,” he said.
He said he did not have any information on the suspect and had only heard “hearsay”.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the local Lake Martin Community Hospital said the facility had treated 15 teenagers, all of whom had sustained gunshot wounds.
They added that six of the injured have been treated and released. Nine have been transferred to other facilities – five of whom remain in critical condition.
A vigil was held in the aftermath of the shooting and was attended by hundreds of community members, including Taniya Cox, who was one of the people injured in the shooting.
Ms Cox attended the vigil in a hospital gown with her right arm in a cast, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. She said she was shot twice in her arm at the party on Saturday.
“The mother [of the birthday girl] said whoever had guns had to get out and they didn’t get out and five minutes later the shooting started,” Ms Cox said.
The police have said nothing about how the shooting was brought to an end or about the police investigation but have urged the public to come forward with information.
Casey Davis, a deputy superintendent at the local board of education, told the BBC that clergy and grief counsellors would be available to the community. Asked about the lack of information from police so far, Mr Davis replied: “Let investigations go on.”
Other residents who spoke to the BBC described the mood in the close-knit town as sombre and said community members were coming together to support each other in the aftermath of the shooting.
This shooting takes the US to a grim milestone of more than 160 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines such events as ones in which four or more people are shot.
President Joe Biden renewed his calls for tougher gun laws after the incident.
He condemned the killing as “outrageous and unacceptable”, adding Americans wanted legislators to act to tackle mass shootings, but that Republicans were instead eroding gun safety laws.
Alabama is a state known for protecting the right of citizens to own guns, and the Republican governor’s message of condolence has been met with criticism on social media by those advocating for gun law reform.
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