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3 people face murder charges for Sweet 16 party massacre that left 4 dead, 32 injured

Community members embrace each other during a vigil the day after a shooting during a teenager's birthday party at Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio in Dadeville, Alabama, U.S., April 16, 2023. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

(CNN) — Three people — including two teenagers — have been arrested and now face murder charges in connection with the deadly rampage at a weekend Sweet 16 birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama authorities say.

Wilson LaMar Hill Jr., 20, of Auburn, was arrested Wednesday afternoon and charged with four counts of reckless murder, according to a news release from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. It is unknown if Hill has an attorney.

Ty Reik McCullough, 17, and Travis McCullough, 16, both of Tuskegee, were arrested Tuesday night. They also each face four counts of reckless murder, said Sgt. Jeremy Burkett with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

The attack Saturday night left four people dead and at least 32 others hurt, including at least 15 teenagers who suffered gunshot wounds. Given the injuries, more charges will be filed, and both teen suspects will be charged as adults, Fifth Circuit District Attorney Mike Segrest said.

“We’ve still got four that are in the hospital, four that are in critical condition,” Segrest said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The carnage was one of at least 165 US mass shootings — with four or more shot, excluding a gunman — in the first four months of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. But it’s still not clear why the young victims were massacred.

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

Authorities also didn’t say what connection, if any, the two suspects had to Alexis Dowdell’s Sweet 16 party. Their hometown, Tuskegee, is about 30 miles south of Dadeville.

The party was in full swing when gunfire erupted, witnesses said. Her 18-year-old brother Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell was killed, along with Marsiah Emmanuel Collins, 19; Shaunkivia “Keke” Nicole Smith, 17; and Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, the Tallapoosa County coroner said.

A candlelight vigil honoring Phil is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Thursday at the Mt. Lovely Baptist Church in Camp Hill, Alabama.

‘I just want justice for my baby’

After four days of agony and uncertainty, the family of one slain victim was relieved to learn the first two suspects had been arrested.

“I’m happy that the investigation is going well and someone is going to be responsible for all the victims,” said LaShonda Allen, the aunt of Alexis and Phil Dowdell.

She said her family did not recognize the names of the two teenage suspects, who were not invited to the party.

For her sister LaTonya Allen, what should have been a night of jubilation for her daughter’s 16th birthday instead led to a lifetime of anguish after the death of her 18-year-old son.

Phil was shot twice in the neck and died one month before his high school graduation. He had been looking forward to attending Jacksonville State University on a football scholarship.

“I just want justice for my baby and all the other kids that were involved,” Allen told CNN this week. “They took away a piece of my heart, and I know the other mothers and fathers feel the same way.”

In addition to the four victims killed, another 32 people were injured, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said.

Among them, at least 15 teens were shot and taken to Dadeville’s Lake Martin Community Hospital, a spokesperson said earlier this week.

He helped save his sister from gunfire, then died

Alexis had been planning her Sweet 16 for months and started feeling “butterflies in my stomach” the day of the party, she told CNN.

She went to her brother — and sat down on his bed — to tell him she was nervous, Alexis recalled. Phil comforted her and assured her she would have fun.

Hours later at the party, their mother heard a rumor that someone at the venue was armed. Allen made a stern announcement over the speaker, she said: “If anyone in here has a gun, then you need to leave because we’re here to celebrate Alexis’ Sweet 16.”

Allen and other chaperones scoured the crowd for anyone carrying a gun but didn’t see one, the mom recalled. And Alexis, her mother and the DJ didn’t hear a fight or any disturbance, they said.

But right then, as the teens were partying to the music of a DJ, gunfire erupted.

“All I remember is my brother grabbing me and pushing me down to the ground,” Alexis said.

She fell into a puddle of blood.

Alexis got up and ran outside, where she reunited with her mom.

But Phil was nowhere to be found.

When the shooting stopped, mother and daughter went back inside.

Bodies of the injured and dying lay scattered across the dimly lit dance floor, they said.

The lights flicked on, and horror revealed itself to Alexis and her mom: Phil’s body was soaked in blood.

Alexis ran to comfort her big brother as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

“You’re going to make it. You’re strong,” she told Phil. “Don’t give up on me.”

But by the time first responders arrived, Alexis said, Phil was gone.

Now, Allen is left to deal with the torment no mother should have to endure, she said.

“It’s a nightmare that I don’t wish on any parent — to go in and to see my baby laying there in a pile of blood,” she said. “That was the worst thing that I could experience in my life.”