By Amanda Holpuch and Claire Fahy
Four people were killed and 28 others were injured in a shooting at a birthday party Saturday night in an Alabama city, officials said.
Sgt. Jeremy Burkett, a spokesperson for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, said that the shooting in Dadeville took place around 10:34 p.m. At news conferences Sunday, the authorities did not provide information about who opened fire or why.
The shooting occurred at the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio, The Montgomery Advertiser reported. Dadeville is about 60 miles northeast of Montgomery, and about 3,000 people live there.
The studio hosted Zumba and line dancing classes for children and teenagers and had been rehearsing for a dance showcase celebrating its second anniversary April 29, according to its Facebook page. A representative of the studio could not be immediately reached Sunday.
At least 15 teenagers were treated for gunshot wounds, said Heidi Smith, a spokesperson for Lake Martin Community Hospital in Dadeville.
She said that nine of the teenagers were transferred to a different hospital to receive a higher level of care and that five of those nine were in critical condition. There were 17 ambulances on the scene after the shooting, Smith said.
Residents on Sunday morning grappled with the shooting, which took place at a 16th birthday party, said Ben Hayes, the senior pastor at Dadeville First Baptist Church, who is also the chaplain of the city’s Police Department.
Philstavious Dowdell, a Dadeville High School football player who was known as Phil and who had committed to Jacksonville State University, was one of those killed, the pastor said.
Dowdell was 18, and it was his younger sister’s birthday party, according to Michael Taylor, a coach at Dadeville High School.
He said Dowdell’s sister was a cheerleader who cheered for every sport at the high school and that many of the athletes she had supported came out to celebrate.
“They’re all like family, like brothers and sisters in a small town,” Taylor said. “This whole town is just in disbelief, like it’s a dream.”
The head coach of Jacksonville State University’s football team, Rich Rodriguez, said in a statement that Dowdell was a “great young man with a bright future.”
KeKe Nicole Smith, 18, a volleyball player and team manager for the Dadeville High School track team, was also killed, Taylor said. Smith’s cousin, Amy Jackson, confirmed her death in a Facebook message. Taylor, who coached the track team Smith managed, described her as “full of life.”
“She was so fun and funny,” he said. “A typical 18-year-old.”
The superintendent of the Tallapoosa County Board of Education, Raymond Porter, said at the news conference that schools would provide counseling to students Monday. “We will make every effort to comfort those children,” Porter said.
Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama said on Twitter on Sunday that her office was receiving updates about the shooting.
“This morning, I grieve with the people of Dadeville and my fellow Alabamians,” the governor said. “Violent crime has NO place in our state, and we are staying closely updated by law enforcement as details emerge.”
President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting, and he and his staff have been in contact with local law enforcement and officials to offer support, White House officials said.
“What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear?” the president said in a statement. “This is outrageous and unacceptable.”
Guns are the leading killer of children in the United States, making it an extreme outlier compared with similarly large and wealthy nations. In 2020, gun violence surpassed car accidents and disease to become the leading killer of children.
The gun death rate for children in the United States is nearly 5 in every 100,000. The rate had been flat for more than a decade starting in 2000 and started to creep up in 2014. Researchers who study gun violence say that it is difficult to explain why the rate has risen so quickly, but most emphasize that the proliferation of guns has most likely played a role.
Taylor said that at Dadeville High School, where many of the victims were students, classes would be in session on Monday. He was already trying to figure out what to say to the students who would show up.
“Bottom line, we’ve got to pray our way out of this and give it time,” Taylor said. “That’s the only way out.”