DADEVILLE, Ala (AP) — Three days after gunfire at a Sweet 16 birthday party killed four young people and injured 32 more, some critically, victims’ relatives and officials expressed hope that investigators may be nearing an arrest and also frustration about police silence on the case.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced Tuesday evening that multiple law enforcement agencies, including local police and and the FBI, would hold a news conference the following morning to discuss the case, further heightening anticipation of a potential breakthrough.
The shootings Saturday night rocked the small town of Dadeville, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Birmingham, and families suddenly found themselves planning memorials and burial services instead of graduation parties or college move-ins.
A relative of one teen killed in the shooting told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the family, which has been briefed by officials, understands that the investigation is progressing.
“They are working very hard and are adamant about apprehending those who are responsible for the tragic event,” said Amy Jackson, whose cousin KeKe Smith was among the dead.
Dadeville Mayor Frank Goodman said Tuesday that police had established a new command center behind a church, but it was not immediately clear if it was connected to the shooting. He also said a lack of information from police about where the investigation stands has been frustrating for many.
“They hadn’t told us nothing yet. They are not releasing anything,” Goodman said when asked if an arrest was near. “It’s been frustrating for me especially when citizens come by and want to know what is happening.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency had released little information. The previous day it said in a statement that investigators were “still processing all of the evidence, in conjunction with completing interviews, in an effort to solidify a motive and potential suspects.”
The four people killed were: Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, 18, a senior at Dadeville High School senior and star wide receiver who had planned to play college football in the fall; fellow Dadeville High senior Shaunkivia Nicole “KeKe” Smith, 17, a track and multisport athlete-turned-team manager; 2022 Opelika High School graduate Marsiah Emmanuel “Siah” Collins, 19, an aspiring singer who also planned to start college this fall; and 2018 Dadeville High graduate Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, another former athlete at the school.
“I’m speechless. I’m numb. I really can’t believe that Marsiah is gone,” Shirley “Shunte” Jones, Collins’ mother, said at a candlelight vigil, according to the Opelika-Auburn News.
“I never thought I would have to bury my child. ... I thought my child’s supposed to bury me,” Jones continued.
Holston’s mother, Janett Heard, told AL.com that he had gone to the party to check on a younger family member who feared trouble. Relatives told the news outlet the shooting began shortly after Holston arrived and he pulled his younger relative to safety.
Lawmakers held a moment of silence Tuesday on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives.
“It is a sad day for the state when something so senseless happens. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones in this attack,” state Rep. Ed Oliver of Dadeville said. He added that they were calling on people “to continue to pray for healing and recovery for the community.”
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said it is time for the state to address gun violence in Alabama, which in 2020 had the fifth-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caucus members, who hold a minority of seats in the GOP-controlled Legislature, spoke at a funeral home owned by Smith’s grandfather.
“I am tired of hearing the wails and the cries of parents and families that have lost their loved ones, and elected officials have not acted,” Democratic state Sen. Merika Coleman said.
Investigators are asking people to come forward with any videos or photos from the party. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said it has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish a digital tip line for such submissions.