A high school football star and honor student who was set to graduate and play football was among the four killed in small-town Alabama in a mass shooting at a Sweet 16 party where 28 people were shot on Saturday night. Phil Dowdell, a senior set to graduate in weeks, was celebrating his sister Alexis' birthday when he was killed in the mass shooting.
Dowdell was in a happy mood celebrating Alexis' birthday at Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio in Dadeville when the first shots rang out following what police suspect was a fight. Dowdell's brother Philstavious 'Phil' Dowdell, a high school senior like Smith, was also killed in the shooting.
Raw Talent's Unfortunate Death
Dowdell was one of the best players in the state, who recently committed to play wide receiver at Jacksonville State University, a coach told AL.com on Sunday. "He was the No. 1 athlete in the school,'' said Michael Taylor, an assistant football, basketball and track coach at Dadeville High.
"The first thing we've got to do is we've got to pray our way out of this," Taylor said. "There ain't no other way. ... They're all real close, like family, at the high school."
The boy's mother, who survived, and more than 28 other attendees are believed to have been hit by the hail of gunfire, according to Dowdell's grandmother Annette Allen, who made the revelation on Sunday.
In an interview, Allen recalled her grandson as a kind-hearted person who never caused difficulty for anyone, while shedding light on the still-shrouded incident. Police did not say whether they had a suspect in custody on Sunday.
"He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face," Allen told the Montgomery Advertiser.
"They were here celebrating it," Allen added of Alexis' birthday. "Everybody's grieving."
A week ago, Dowdell posted on Facebook, "everyday my life go up & up, it's hard for me to get mad."
The same day, he posted pictures of himself and his senior prom date wearing glittering yellow dresses, while he was dressed in shorts and a jacket that matched hers.
On Sunday morning, his sister changed her Facebook profile photo to a photograph of her kissing her brother on the face.
Unidentified Suspect, Unclear Motive
According to his grandmother, Dowdell, who had a "million-dollar smile," was preparing to graduate before enrolling at Jacksonville State on a football scholarship. The university's head football coach mourned the tragedy that claimed Dowdell and the others in a statement on Sunday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Philstavious Dowdel and the other victims of the senseless tragedy last night," Jax Head Coach Rich Rodriguez said in a Twitter post.
"He was a great young man with a bright future," Rodriguez wrote. "My staff and I are heartbroken and hope that everyone will support his family through this difficult time."
According to Taylor, Dowdell excelled in track as well as basketball while also being an honor student.
"It's a small town. We don't have too many crimes like this at all. So it's shocking, very shocking," Taylor said.
KeKe Nicole Smith, a fellow senior at Dadeville High School and a former athlete, was named as the second victim of the massacre. She was remembered as being "so full of love."
The brawl also left nearly 30 people hurt, including Dowdell's mother, who suffered two bullet wounds, according to Allen.
Authorities confirmed that shots were fired at the Mahogany Masterpiece, a former dance studio in the heart of Dadeville, at about 10:34 p.m. on Saturday.
Local police had not provided any updates regarding the number of casualties or those injured for more than 10 hours until an update from the ALEA at around 9 am, which revealed that four people had died in total.
At least 20 guests were shot, according to witness testimony from earlier in the day. Allen later added that parents who were still crowded into the local hospitals on Sunday morning after spending the night waiting outside still do not know where their children are.
She stated that they are actively searching hospitals for their loved ones while police held a briefing urging residents of the roughly 3,000-person town to stay strong.
The briefing did not provide any fresh information about the victims or a potential gunman, with state authorities hinting that they have a difficult investigation ahead of them.