Two days after a killer gunned down revelers celebrating a Sweet 16 party, police say they have “strong leads” in the massacre that left four people dead, at least 32 others injured and a small Alabama city tormented by confusion and grief.
In addition to the young victims killed, at least 15 teens were shot and hospitalized Saturday night in Dadeville.
Despite the leads, police have not released any information about a possible suspect or motive behind the violence.
While Dadeville’s police chief asked for “patience” with the investigation, he and state officials urged anyone who has pictures or information from the scene to help authorities.
“I cannot stress this enough: We absolutely need you to share it,” Sgt. Jeremy J. Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said.
The gunfire erupted around 10:34 p.m. Saturday at a venue in downtown Dadeville. Keenan Cooper, who was DJ’ing the party, said he didn’t notice any fight or disturbance before the shooting.
“It’s really sad to see all the kids that were shot and the ones that are deceased,” Cooper told CNN. “And seeing all those bodies at the front door, all those kids are probably going to be traumatized.”
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency did not specify the ages of the 32 people injured or whether they were all shot. But Burkett said some of them were critically injured.
4 young lives inexplicably cut short
On Monday, Tallapoosa County Coroner Mike Knox identified all four of the victims killed:
• Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, a 23-year-old male from Dadeville, Alabama
• Marsiah Emmanuel Collins, a 19-year-old male from Opelika, Alabama
• Philstavious Dowdell, an 18-year-old male from Camp Hill, Alabama, and a senior at Dadeville High School
• Shaunkivia (KeKe) Nicole Smith, a 17-year-old female, also a senior at Dadeville High School
‘Don’t give up on me,’ victim’s sister says she told him
Dowdell was the brother of the teen celebrating her birthday, Alexis Dowdell, the family says.
Partygoers were enjoying the music when the gunfire started, Alexis told CNN on Tuesday. People panicked and ran around, she said.
“And then all I remember is my brother grabbing me and pushing me down to the ground” while the shooting continued, Alexis said.
She felt a pool of blood on the ground, she said. Uninjured, she said she eventually got up and went outside and found her stepfather and mother, LaTonya Allen, who also had been at the party.
When she went back inside and the lights were turned on, Alexis could see her brother, wounded on the ground. She ran to him and held him, she said, telling him: “’(You’re) strong. Don’t give up on me.’”
When emergency medical technicians arrived, Alexis asked them to check her brother’s pulse. “And they checked and they said he was gone,” she said.
Dowdell was a star football player at Dadeville High School and earned a scholarship to play at Jacksonville State University, Cooper said.
Allen, his mother, said he was “everything you would want in a son.”
“He always did everything to make me happy,” Allen said.
2 best friends and ‘very respectful children’ were killed
Collins was a high school football player and an aspiring musician who looked forward to attending Louisiana State University in the fall, his father Martin Collins told CNN.
He graduated from Opelika High School in 2022 and was accepted to LSU for that fall semester. But he decided to take a year off to pursue a music career and spend more time with his mother before heading out of state for college.
“Marsiah was optimistic and a loving person who cared about his family deeply,” his father said. “He loved to spend time with his sisters, and he loved football.”
The younger Collins was also best friends with Philstavious Dowdell, despite playing football for different high schools, his father said.
“Football in Alabama connects the kids. Those kids did everything together. They would even go to each other’s high schools to watch each other play,” Martin Collins said.
Marsiah Collins is survived by his older brother, two younger sisters and his parents.
“I have my son’s picture over my bed,” his father said. “And to wake up now and see it and know my son is dead is devastating.”
Dowdell was “kind of like the hometown hero,” Cooper said.
City council member Teneeshia Goodman-Johnson said she knew Dowdell and two of the other victims. All were smart “with very bright futures,” she told CNN affiliate WAKA.
“Very athletic, very humble children, very respectful children,” Goodman-Johnson said. “They just wanted to have fun, and that was taken from them.”
Smith was looking forward to attending the University of Alabama, her cousin Amy Jackson said.
Smith was also a student athletic manager on the Dadeville High School track team, coach Michael Taylor said.
Taylor, who is also an assistant football coach, said Dowdell asked him for poignant favor just weeks before he was killed: “If anything ever happened to me, even when I go to college, take care of my two sisters,” the teen asked his coach.
Several teens are fighting for their lives
At least 15 teenagers from the birthday party were shot and taken to Dadeville’s Lake Martin Community Hospital, spokesperson Heidi Smith said.
Among them, five were in critical condition, and four were in stable condition, Smith said Sunday. Those nine patients have been transferred to other medical facilities.
The remaining six patients have been treated and released, Smith said.
In nearby Alexander City, Russell Medical Center “received multiple patients” from the birthday party shooting, 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.
Dadeville joins cities nationwide in mourning
The anguish gripping Dadeville is now tragically familiar across the country.
The US has suffered more than 160 mass shootings in the first 16 weeks of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Like CNN, the non-profit defines mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
President Joe Biden said he is praying for the victims’ families in Dadeville and reiterated his call Sunday for Congress to reach an agreement on gun control legislation.
“What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear? When parents have to worry every time their kids walk out the door to school, to the movie theater, or to the park?” Biden said.
Mourners in Dadeville don’t have to speculate. They’re already enveloped by grief.
“It’s a very close, tight-knit community,” said local pastor Ben Hayes, who also serves as the chaplain for the Dadeville Police Department and the Dadeville High School football team.
“Everybody knows everybody. That’s why this is so difficult,” he said. “I knew these kids personally. Most people did.”
CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Keith Allen, Isabel Rosales, Andy Rose, Tina Burnside, David Williams, Dianne Gallagher and Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.