A Sweet 16 party turned into a scene of carnage when four people were killed and at least 28 others were injured on Saturday night, officials said.
The deadly rampage happened in downtown Dadeville around 10:34 p.m. Saturday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said Sunday.
“There were four lives tragically lost in this incident, and there’s been a multitude of injuries,” Sgt. Jeremy J. Burkett said.
There was a “wide variety of injuries that were sustained” during the incident and some of the victims remain in critical condition, Burkett said during a Sunday afternoon news conference.
“Please understand this is also a very fluid situation. We have been getting continuous updates throughout the day and we are absolutely trying to confirm and understand everyone that was in the venue there,” Burkett said.
Burkett said they are still speaking with witnesses and trying to gather information about the shooting. Police did not release any details about a suspect or a motive during the news conference.
The sergeant also urged the public to report any information about the incident to Alabama law enforcement agencies. “I cannot stress this enough, we absolutely need you to share it,” Burkett said.
One of the victims killed was Philstavious Dowdell – a stellar high school football player and the brother of the birthday girl, said Ben Hayes, the football team’s chaplain, and Keenan Cooper, who was the DJ at the party when the gunfire broke out.
Cooper told CNN he didn’t hear a fight or disturbance prior to the shooting.
“It’s really sad to see all the kids that were shot and the ones that are deceased,” he said. “And seeing all those bodies at the front door, all those kids are probably going to be traumatized.”
Earlier on Sunday, hospital officials said at least 15 teenagers were treated for gunshot wounds – including several who are in critical condition.
Of the 15 teens taken to Dadeville’s Lake Martin Community Hospital, six have been treated and released, hospital spokesperson Heidi Smith said.
The remaining nine have been transferred to other medical facilities. At last check, five of those teens were in critical condition and four were in stable condition.
In nearby Alexander City, Russell Medical Center “received multiple patients” from the birthday party shooting in Dadeville, spokesperson Susan Foy said.
“They were either treated and released or transferred to other facilities,” Foy said. She said she could not confirm how many patients were received or their ages.
Police have not released any information about the assailant or a possible motive.
Dowdell was about to graduate high school next month and earned a scholarship to play football at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, Cooper said.
The teen was “kind of like the hometown hero,” Cooper said.
Jacksonville State Head Coach Rich Rodriguez issued a statement Sunday mourning Dowdell’s death.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Philstavious Dowdell and the other victims of the senseless tragedy last night,” Rodriguez said.
“He was a great young man with a bright future.”
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Michael Taylor, a coach at Dadeville High School, said he’s in disbelief after learning about the mass shooting.
Taylor said he had coached Dowdell since he was 9 and described him as a standout athlete, saying, “Anything he put his hand on, he was blessed.”
The coach recalled a recent conversation with Dowdell during which the teenager told him: “If anything ever happened to me, even when I go to college, take care of my two sisters.”
“It can’t be true; it just can’t be true,” Taylor said.
Hayes, the Dadeville football team’s chaplain, also serves as the chaplain for Dadeville police. He said the police chief asked him to go to Lake Martin Community Hospital to help with crowd control and ministering students who had gathered.
“It’s a very close, tight-knit community,” Hayes told CNN. “Everybody knows everybody. That’s why this is so difficult, it’s because this, it’s affecting everybody in the community.”
Hayes said students told him the shooting happened at a “Sweet 16” birthday party.
“I knew these kids personally. Most people did,” the pastor said. Among those gathered at the hospital, “There was a lot of sadness, a lot of concern on faces,” Hayes said.
“I think at this point it’s shock,” he said. “I think probably the anger will come. I think it’s a matter of time to see how people respond to this. But right now, things are quiet, and we’re just praying that it stays that way.”
A prayer vigil will be held at 5 p.m. CT Sunday outside Dadeville’s First Baptist Church, Hayes said.
Tallapoosa County Schools will offer counseling to students on Monday, Superintendent Raymond C. Porter said.
Dadeville, population 3,000, is about 45 miles northeast of Montgomery.
“What we’ve dealt with is something that no community should have to endure,” Dadeville Police Chief Jonathan L. Floyd said Sunday.
“I also ask each of you please do not let this moment define what you think about the city of Dadeville and our fine people.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey sent her condolences to the community. “This morning, I grieve with the people of Dadeville and my fellow Alabamians,” Ivey said in a statement to CNN.
“Violent crime has NO place in our state, and we are staying closely updated by law enforcement as details emerge.”
The Alabama shooting happened the same day that shots were fired into a crowd at a park in Louisville, Kentucky. Two people were killed and four others were wounded.
That incident marked the city’s second mass shooting in less than a week. Last Monday, a gunman killed five people and injured several others at Louisville’s Old National Bank – about 5 miles away from Chickasaw Park.
Across the country, the US has suffered more than 160 mass shootings in the first 15 weeks of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That’s an average of more than 1.5 mass shootings every day so far this year.
The archive defines mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.