Four dead, 28 Injured In Shooting At Birthday Party In Alabama

Jemma Stephenson, Alabama Reflector

At least four people were killed and 28 injured in a shooting at a birthday party in Dadeville on Saturday night.

The shootings took place on Broadnax Street around 10:30 p.m., said Sgt. Jeremy Burkett, a spokesman for ALEA, at a press conference Sunday morning. The Alexander City Outlook reported the shootings took place at Mahogany’s Masterpiece, a dance studio.

“There were four lives, not fatalities, lives,” Burkett said.

ALEA officials said Sunday evening that 28 people were injured in the shooting. Heidi Smith, director of marketing for Lake Martin Hospital, said in a statement Sunday 15 teenagers were admitted to the hospital with injuries. Six were treated and released; nine were transferred to other hospitals, and five were in critical condition.

Law enforcement did not share information on arrests or possible suspects. Burkett said in response to a question after a Sunday morning press conference that there was no public safety threat.

“What we’ve dealt with is something that none of you should have to endure,” said Jonathan L. Floyd, the chief of the Dadeville Police Department.

Jaheem Brown said Sunday morning he was at the party last night but left early.

“My heart goes out to all of the families who have to go through this,” he said.

‘Everybody hurts’

Ben Hayes, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dadeville, said he was at the Lake Martin Hospital until 3:15 a.m. Sunday morning. He identified one of the victims as Phil Dowdell, 18, a Dadeville High School student. Hayes said the event was a “Sweet 16” birthday party for Dowdell’s sister.

Hayes, the chaplain for the Dadeville High School football team, said Dowdell played football and track for Dadeville High School. Hayes called him an “exceptional” athlete who was set to go to Jacksonville State University, and who was “all business” on the football field.

“Basically everything he did, he did well,” Hayes said about Dowdell.

JSU coach Rich Rodriguez said in a statement Sunday that Dowdell was “a great young man with a bright future.”

“My staff and I are heartbroken and hope that everyone will support his family through this difficult time,” the statement said.

Off the field, Dowdell was a kind and generous young man. Hayes said that people loved Dowdell and Dowdell loved people.

“He was the kind of young man that you’d be proud to call your son,” he said.

ALEA had not released names of the other victims as of Sunday evening.

People in town have a lot of questions, anger and grieving happening at the moment. Hayes said the church is doing their best to help navigate people and said “we need prayers.”

“Everybody hurts,” he said.

Aaron Mace, a pastor at Pine Hill Sunday Adventist Church in Sylacauga and Beacon of Joy Seventh Day Adventist Church in Alex City, said Sunday he drove past the party on Saturday night, about an hour before the shootings. Mace planned to go to Dadeville High School Monday morning to offer support.

The community, he said, was in shock over the incident and the youth of the victims.

“People don’t have the words to say to deal with this,” he said.

A somber afternoon

Dadeville is a city of about 3,000 people near Lake Martin in Tallapoosa County. The city was quiet Sunday afternoon. The only sounds were caused by the wind and the cars driving by businesses, churches and the city hall. A closed pottery store’s wind chimes seemed like the loudest sound. The sounds of an ice cream truck could be heard occasionally. Plants were set out at a local nursery, but no people browsed. A few blocks from the dance studio, the American flag of First United Methodist Church was at half-mast. In the words of two different pastors, Dadeville is “somber.”

Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, who represents the area in the Legislature, said in an interview that the tragedy was “not something we could even imagine here.”

“Dadeville is a quiet town where people love and respect each other,” he said. “As this investigation continues, we will address the facts. I still believe Dadeville is a great place to live and I look forward to addressing the cause of this horrific event. For now, we just ask people to continue to pray for the victims and their families.”

Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Raymond C. Porter said at the Sunday morning press conference that schools would offer counseling on Monday morning, and said the shooting “does not represent our children.”

Gun deaths

Alabama has one of the highest rates of deaths from firearms in the country, behind only Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Gun Violence Archives, a nonprofit organization that tracks gun violence through police statements and media reports, there have been over 100 mass shootings in Alabama in the last 10 years, resulting in 118 deaths and 443 injuries. The organization defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were killed or injured, not including the shooter.

The website said there were 16 mass shootings in Alabama last year, killing 11 people and injuring 69. In 2021, there were 23 mass shootings in the state, killing 22 people and leaving 85 Alabamians injured.

Guns have been the leading cause of death for American children since 2017, according to a 2022 study of CDC data.

According to an April 2023 analysis from Pew Research Center of annual mortality statistics from the CDC, the rise in gun deaths among children coincided with a surge in gun sales and ownership in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of gun deaths among children in the United States increased by 50% in just two years. The study found that 1,680 children under the age of 18 died from firearm injuries in 2021, compared to 1,120 in 2019. Most of these deaths were classified as homicides or suicides.

Grief and shock

A vigil held at First Baptist Church, just a few blocks away from where police were still blocking the street, drew a large crowd Sunday evening. People from all ages were grieving, but the children crying stood out.

Hayes started by praying for the students. He asked everyone to find a student and put their hands on them.

“We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve. We shed tears. Our hearts are broken. We have the hope that the creator of heaven and earth is right here with us,” Hayes prayed.

Hayes also highlighted the teachers in the crowd.

“I want to ask you, once again, gather around these heroes, because there are going to be back in the classroom tomorrow, and they are going to be dealing with these kids, and their broken hearts, and the trauma,” Hayes said.

Pastors from congregations in Dadeville each led a subsequent prayer. Fred Hutcherson, pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church, prayed for the teachers.

“Lord, as they sit aside whatever’s going on in their lives, to prepare for loving these children tomorrow – Lord – that you give them the strength and the words to say to comfort these students as they try to figure out why things like this might happen,” Hutcherson said.

Antojuan Woody, an 18-year-old student at Dadeville High School, said that he’s still in shock, and can’t believe that it happened still.

“I’m not ready to go back to school,” he said. “With them not being in, it’s going to be terrible.”

Jennifer Ray, mother of 17-year-old Jaiduyen Gossitt, said that as a mother of a Dadeville High School student, she feels broken.

“It could have been her,” Ray said.

Gossitt, who said she was close to one of the victims, said that the community needs to love on each other to move on from this.

Ray said that she’s not sending Gossitt back to school yet.

“She needs time,” Ray said.

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: info@alabamareflector.com. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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