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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Andrea Blanco and Shweta Sharma

A college football star to an aspiring musician: Victims of the Alabama ‘Sweet 16’ shooting


Dadeville, Alabama, became the latest community in the US to be rocked by gun violence after a mass shooting erupted during a Sweet 16 birthday party.

Four victims, aged 17 to 23, were killed and more than two dozen people wounded on Saturday night. Very few details have been shared about the shooting as of Monday evening, including a possible motive behind the attack, and nearly 48 hours after the violence, the shooter or shooters remain at large.

The tragedy has hit every corner in the small city of just 3,200, Amy Jackson told The Independent on Monday. Ms Jackson’s cousin Keke Nicole Smith is among the victims killed — and she has at least two other loved ones recovering in hospital. Her fiancé’s cousin Corbin Holston was also killed during the attack.

“It’s still fresh. It hasn’t sunk in that this is really happening. It’s a close-knitted community, people know everybody. ‘Your kids are our kids’ type of community,” Ms Jackson said. “And it’s just hard to believe that something like that, that we normally see on TV ... is our reality.”

As Dadeville reels from the violence, residents begin to grapple with the devastating aftermath and the complex healing journey that looms ahead.

Gunfire erupted at roughly 10.34pm local time at the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio in downtown Dadeville, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said.

“There were four lives tragically lost in this incident, and there’s been a multitude of injuries,” said Sgt Jeremy J Burkett during a Sunday press conference.

The four victims were identified on Monday by the Tallapoosa County Coroner’s Office. Here is what we know about them.

KeKe Nicole Smith

KeKe Nicole Smith, 17, was a volleyball player and team manager for the Dadeville High School track team, Michael Taylor, a coach at Dadeville High School told The New York Times.

Amy Jackson, her cousin, remembered Smith as a “ray of sun” in the darkness and said that the teen was planning to attend the University of Alabama in the fall.

“She was her mom’s firstborn, a good sister to her siblings, she had a younger brother and sister that she took good care of,” Ms Jackson told The Independent. She had a smile that was contagious. If she smiled at you, you were gonna smile back at her.”

On Sunday, hospital officials said 15 teenagers – among the 28 injured – were given treatment for gunshot wounds. Several of them remained in critical condition at Dadeville’s Lake Martin Community Hospital.

Six of the teenagers were discharged from the hospital after receiving treatment.

Corbin Holston

Corbin Holston, 23, did not attend the party but rushed to the scene to check on his nephew after he received a text.

“Out of concern for other family members, Corbin responded to the party to ensure their safety but unfortunately encountered the suspects,’’ Holston’s mother Janett Heard told


Holston, who graduated from Dadeville High School in 2018, pulled his relative to safety before he was fatally wounded.

“Corbin was selfless when it came to his family and friends and always tried to be a protector,’’ Ms Heard said. “That’s just the type of person he was.”

Authorities have not said whether the attack is believed to be random or targeted.

Philstavious ‘Phil’ Dowdell

An honours student at Dadeville High School, Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, 18, was identified as one of the victims of the shooting by family members.

He was celebrating his sister’s birthday before he was shot dead, his grandmother Annette Allen told the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper.

The high school senior was a stellar football player and had committed to Jacksonville State University.

Ms Jackson, who was familiarised with the local football star, said he had just scored first place at a track race on the day of the shooting.

“If you saw his pictures on Facebook that his mom would post, it would make you smile,” Ms Jackson told The Independent. “He was such a good athlete that day ... He was the one, he was the star. “

The Jacksonville State Football team issued a statement mourning the loss of the would-be member of their programme.

“Our Thoughts and prayers are with the family of Philstavious Dowdell and the other victims of the senseless tragedy last night,” tweeted Rich Rodriguez, the head coach of the team.

“He was a great young man with a bright future. My staff and I are heartbroken and hope that everyone will support his family through this difficult time.”

Ms Allen described her grandson as a “very humble child” who always had a smile on his face.

“He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face,” Ms Allen told the newspaper, calling it “a million-dollar smile”.

“Everybody’s grieving.”

Pastor Ben Hayes, who serves as the chaplain for the local high school football team, said he was weeks away from graduation and had a bright future.

“He was a strong competitor on the field,” Mr Hayes said. “You didn’t want to try to tackle him or get tackled by him. But when he came off the field, he was one of the nicest young men that you could ever meet, very respectful and well-respected by his peers.”

Marsiah Collins

Martin Collins identified his son Marsiah, 19, as one of the victims killed.

Marsiah graduated from Opelika High School in 2022 and was taking a gap year to focus on his music.

He was planning to move in with his father to Baton Rouge in the fall so he could attend Louisiana State University, reported.

“I don’t know what to say about this situation,” Mr Collins told “He messaged me on April 5 telling me he was ready to leave.”

(Mariah Collins/Facebook)

Mr Collins said he found out about the devastating news on Sunday morning. He described Marsiah as a great big brother to his sister.

The grieving father also addressed speculation online about his son.

“Everything I’ve done in my life was to show my son it can be done, and to give him a positive role model to follow,” Mr Collins told

“There’s been some crap on Twitter trying to make my son look like a thug, because he was making a music video with a gun that wasn’t even real. They’re trying to make this narrative that he was a thug and was responsible for his own death. He didn’t know anything about no street life.”

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