At least four people were killed, including a high school football player, in a shooting that erupted during a birthday party held inside a dance studio in the small town of Dadeville, Ala., state police and local news media said on Sunday.
In addition to the four people who died, 28 people were injured, some critically, during the shooting about 100 kilometres northeast of the state capital of Montgomery, authorities said.
Authorities said the shooting started shortly after 10:30 p.m. CT on Saturday but declined to answer questions or provide further details during two Sunday news conferences.
Officials would not say whether a suspect has been killed or arrested, although they said there was no longer any threat to the community.
“We’re going to continue to work in a very methodical way to go through this scene, to look at the facts and ensure that justice is brought to bear for the families,” said Jeremy Burkett, a sergeant with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
The Montgomery Advertiser newspaper reported that one of the four people slain during the violence was a high school football player who was among those attending his sister’s Sweet 16 birthday celebration when a gunman opened fire.
The newspaper, quoting the victim’s grandmother, identified the slain teenager as Phil Dowdell, who she said was set to graduate in a matter of weeks and planned to attend Jacksonville State University on a football scholarship.
Reuters could not independently confirm the information or learn the identities of the other three victims.
Shooting took place inside dance studio
The party was being held inside the Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio, converted from an old bank building located about half a block from city hall in Dadeville, a town of about 3,000 residents. The scene was cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape on Sunday.
Hundreds of community members gathered early Sunday evening in a parking lot a few blocks from the shooting scene for an outdoor prayer vigil.
“What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear?” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday.
Biden called the rising gun violence in the U.S. “outrageous and unacceptable,” and urged Congress to pass laws that would make firearms manufacturers more liable for gun violence, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and require safe storage of firearms and background checks for gun sales.
Schools to provide counselling
Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Raymond Porter said at the news conference that counselling would be provided at area schools on Monday, and he asked local clergy to help families through the situation.
“We will make every effort to comfort those children and don’t lose sight of the fact that those are the ones most impacted by this situation,” Porter said.
The FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Fifth Circuit District Attorney’s Office had also responded to the scene and were assisting with the investigation, according to a news release from the state law enforcement agency.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a Twitter post on Sunday morning that she was staying “closely updated” by law enforcement as details emerged.
“This morning, I grieve with the people of Dadeville and my fellow Alabamians,” she wrote in the post. “Violent crime has NO place in our state.”
The shooting occurred within weeks of two high-profile mass shootings in the nearby states of Tennessee and Kentucky, which prompted local leaders to call for tighter gun control measures last week.
Meanwhile, Republicans vying for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination and other high profile party members tried to prove themselves most supportive of gun rights without restrictions in Indiana this weekend at the annual conference of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s largest gun lobby.
A bank employee fatally shot five colleagues and wounded nine other people at his workplace in Louisville, Ky., on Monday. On March 27, three nine-year-olds and three staff members were killed at a private Christian school in Nashville by a former student.
Separately, an unidentified suspect fired a gun into a crowd of hundreds in a Louisville, Ky., park on Saturday night, leaving two people dead and four wounded, police said. There were no suspects in custody immediately after the shooting.
Mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States. There have been more than 146 so far in 2023, the most at this point in the year since at least 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The non-profit group defines a mass shooting as four or more people injured or killed in a shooting, not including the shooter.