News USA Victims recount the terror experienced at a birthday party in Alabama

Victims recount the terror experienced at a birthday party in Alabama

(CNN) — Before Alexis Dowdell headed off to her ‘Sweet 16’ birthday party, she sat on her older brother’s bed to tell him that she was nervous about the event she had been planning for months, only for him to make her laugh and assure her that He would make sure he had fun, he says.

Just hours later, his brother, Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, was one of four people shot to death at a party held at a downtown Dadeville venue on Saturday night, a massacre that also injured 32 others. , shocking the small Alabama town and leaving investigators trying to figure out who did it and why.

Phil pushed her to the ground when the shooting started. Later, when he realized that he had been shot, he pleaded with her to stay alive.

“You’re going to survive. You’re strong,” Alexis told her 18-year-old brother as her conscience wavered. She begged him, “Don’t leave me.”

Many of the injured were people close to Alexis. In addition to Phil, 19-year-old Marsiah Emmanuel Collins; Shaunkivia “Keke” Nicole Smith, 17; and Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, according to the Tallapoosa County Medical Examiner.

Although the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency reported 32 injuries, it did not specify their ages or whether all had been shot. On Sunday, at least 15 teenagers were being treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital, a hospital official said.

Philstavious Dowdell, left;  Keke Smith, center;  and Marsiah Collins, among those killed in Saturday's shooting.  (Credit: Obtained by CNN)

Philstavious Dowdell, left; Keke Smith, center; and Marsiah Collins, among those killed in Saturday’s shooting. (Credit: Obtained by CNN)

LaTonya Allen, mother of Phil and Alexis Dowdell also recounted the horror of Saturday night.

Allen was at the entrance to the venue when the sound of gunshots cut through the music coming from the DJ booth, he told CNN. She was hit twice during the firefight, though she didn’t immediately notice amid the chaos.

Panic and fear reigned as people rushed to escape through the front door, leaving behind a floor strewn with injured and dying people, Allen and his daughter said.

Allen could hear her two daughters calling her name, she said. But Phil’s voice was silent and she couldn’t see him in the crowd.

In the darkness of the venue, Alexis’s stepfather thought he could make out Phil’s body on the floor, Alexis said, a fear confirmed when the lights came on to reveal Phil drenched in blood.

“That’s when everyone broke down in tears,” Alexis said.

Alexis, who had run out of the room after Phil pushed her to the floor, rushed to her brother’s side and begged him to “stay with her,” her mother said. She “she was trying to tell him something.”

When the first responders arrived, Phil was dead, Alexis said.

“It’s a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on any parent to walk in and see my baby lying in a pile of blood,” Allen said. “It was the worst thing I could experience in my life.”

As loved ones mourn the victims, they join a host of other American families whose hearts have been broken by gun violence. There have been more than 160 mass shootings in the United States this year alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Like CNN, this nonprofit organization defines mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not counting the attacker.

With little information from investigators, Phil’s family continues to deal with confusion and disbelief.

“Why pull out a gun at a boys’ party and start shooting and killing other innocents and hurting others?” Alexis said.

Investigators have “solid leads”

State, local and federal investigators are working to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding the shooting and are asking the public to provide any information about the incident.

Investigators have “strong leads” about the attack, Dadeville Police Chief Jonathan Floyd told CNN Monday. But investigators have not named any suspects or announced a motive.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency was still processing evidence and interviewing witnesses, it said Monday.

“Special agents did not recover any high-powered rifle ammunition at the scene; however, they did recover numerous used pistol casings,” the state agency said in a statement.

Allen and his daughter did not see any altercations or arguments before the shooting began, they said.

Allen, however, claimed he heard a rumor from two partygoers earlier that night that someone had a gun. He said he made a stern announcement over the PA system: “If anyone here has a gun, they need to leave because we’re here to celebrate Alexis’ Sweet 16.”

She and other companions searched the crowd for someone carrying a firearm, but saw no one, the mother said.

Community members cry during a vigil the day after the shooting in Dadeville, Alabama.  (Credit: Cheney Orr/Reuters)Community members cry during a vigil the day after the shooting in Dadeville, Alabama.  (Credit: Cheney Orr/Reuters)

Community members cry during a vigil the day after the shooting in Dadeville, Alabama. (Credit: Cheney Orr/Reuters)

“They took a piece of my heart”

Phil was just weeks away from graduating from Dadeville High School, where he was a star athlete in football, basketball and track, said one of his coaches, Michael Taylor. He had won a scholarship to play football at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.

Alexis said she would often ask her older brother for advice or sit outside to talk with him and her grandmother.

“A piece of my heart was taken from me, and I know other moms and dads feel the same way,” Allen said.

One of the victims, Collins, was Phil’s best friend and also an avid soccer player who loved spending time with his sisters, his father Martin Collins told CNN. He said his son was taking a gap year before going to Louisiana State University in the fall.

“Football was his life. He was very talented and overall a smart kid,” the father said.

“I have my son’s picture on my bed, and to wake up now and see it and know that my son died is devastating,” said Martin Collins.

Keke Smith, a senior at Dadeville High School, was hoping to attend the University of Alabama before she was killed Saturday, her cousin Amy Jackson said. Smith was the athletic director for the school’s track team, Taylor said.

“He was always smiling,” Jackson recalled.

CNN’s Isabel Rosales, Kevin Conlon and Takashi Murakami reported from Dadeville, and Elizabeth Wolfe reported and wrote from Los Angeles. Holly Yan, Chris Boyette, Amanda Jackson, and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this article.

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