3 charged with murder in Sweet 16 party shooting in Alabama

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Flowers and balloons sit piled outside the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Dadeville, Ala. Two teenagers have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with a shooting that killed four young people at a Sweet Sixteen birthday party, Alabama investigators announced Wednesday.

AP Photo, Kimberly Chandler

by Kim Chandler and Jeff Amy

DADEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Two teenagers and a 20-year-old man have been arrested and charged with reckless murder in connection with a shooting that killed four young people at a Sweet Sixteen birthday party in rural Alabama, investigators announced Wednesday.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced that Tuskegee residents Tyreese “Ty Reik” McCullough, 17, and Travis McCullough, 16 — and Wilson LaMar Hill Jr., 20, of Auburn — have been charged with four counts of reckless murder. Tallapoosa County District Attorney Mike Segrest said the two teens would be tried as adults, an automatic requirement for anyone 16 or older charged with murder in Alabama.

Sgt. Jeremy J. Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency declined at a news conference Wednesday to discuss how investigators believe the shooting unfolded.

“We can’t get into a motive right now, because that would be part of an ongoing investigation,” Burkett said. “We can’t share that.”

State law defines reckless murder as when someone causes a death by acting with extreme indifference to human life and recklessly engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death.

Saturday’s shooting at a 16th birthday party shocked Dadeville, a sleepy east Alabama town of 3,200. Besides the four people killed, 32 others were injured, four of them critically. The party, at a dance studio just off the town square, was in full swing when gunfire erupted.

The birthday girl’s brother, 18-year-old Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell of Camp Hill, died as his sister knelt beside him begging him to keep breathing. He and another fatal victim, 17-year-old Shaunkivia Nicole “KeKe” Smith of Dadeville, were high school seniors. Also killed were Marsiah Emmanuel “Siah” Collins, 19, of Opelika, and Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, of Dadeville.

“I just feel broken to know he is not with me,” Dowdell’s mother, LaTonya Allen said. “But I do feel a little peace knowing they arrested somebody.” The arrests were announced the same day Dowdell’s mother met with the funeral home to discuss details for his burial.

Allen said the three suspects were not invited to the party and her daughter “didn’t know them,” but they might have come with someone else as word of the party spread on social media.

Allen said she didn’t know how the shooting happened, but that she knew her son was gone once she saw him on the floor surrounded by blood. “My daughter was kneeling beside him. He was trying to say something to her but he couldn’t,” she said.

The shooting was the 16th mass killing in the U.S. this year. A 17th took place in Maine on Tuesday. A total of 88 people have died in the killings so far in 2023. A mass killing is defined as the slaying of four or more people other than the perpetrator, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.

Phil Dowdell was a star wide receiver readying to play college football at Jacksonville State University. Smith, also college-bound in the fall, was a caring big sister, her family said, and an athlete who became a team manager after being sidelined by a knee injury. Collins was a 2020 Opelika High School graduate planning to start college in the fall after taking a year off to try his hand at music. Holston was a 2018 Dadeville High graduate and former school athlete.

Flowers, balloons and two teddy bears with graduation caps and “Class of 2023” sashes were piled up Wednesday outside the dance studio. Black and gold balloons and ribbons, the colors of Dadeville High, adorned local mailboxes.

Segrest said dozens of teens from nearby towns attended the party, leavin trauma to ripple across the region. “There were so many kids in this venue and what they saw, they’re victims in this,” he said. “Their families are victims of this.”

A family member of KeKe Smith was thankful for arrests. “It don’t make the hurt any easier. But we are relieved that they (the suspects) are not out in the community,” Amy Jackson said in a phone interview.

Investigators have released little information, frustrating some.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency had said only that shell casings from handguns had been found, and that there was no evidence a high-powered rifle was used. Burkett on Wednesday again appealed for information from party-goers and the public.

Segrest said they will ask that the suspects be held without bond. It was not known Wednesday afternoon if those arrested had attorneys who could comment for them.

In 2020, Alabama had the fifth highest rate of gun deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Somebody’s got to start thinking about mama, because I know I’m tired of it and everybody behind me is tired of it,” Burkett said. “We’re tired of going to the mothers and having to tell them that these kids are not coming home.”

 

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