At least four dead, 15 injured in shooting at birthday party in small Alabama town

By: and - April 16, 2023 3:38 pm
A group of people gather outside the Mahogany’s Masterpiece Dance Studio in Dadeville, Alabama on April 16, 2023. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says at least four people were killed in the building on Saturday evening. (Jemma Stephenson/Alabama Reflector)

A group of people gather outside the Mahogany’s Masterpiece Dance Studio in Dadeville, Alabama on April 16, 2023. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says at least four people were killed in the building on Saturday evening. (Jemma Stephenson/Alabama Reflector)

At least four people were killed and 15 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.

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

Burkett did not say at the press conference whether any arrests had been made but said in response to a question afterward 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.

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.

He said that if people would like to make donations to the victims at the shooting, they can take them at First Baptist Church.

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.

An ALEA statement earlier on Sunday said the Dadeville Police Department had requested assistance with the investigation. Other law enforcement on the scene included the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the 5th Circuit District Attorney’s Office.

Dadeville is a city of about 3,000 people near Lake Martin in Tallapoosa County. 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.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Ralph Chapoco contributed to this report. 

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper, and Kaiser Health News, where he covered community health workers' successful efforts to vaccinate refugees in an Atlanta suburb. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.