At least four people have been killed and 28 wounded in a shooting at a “Sweet 16” birthday party in the United States, according to police and media reports.
The gun attack in the small town of Dadeville in the southern US state of Alabama took place late on Saturday night, authorities said on Sunday.
There was no official word on what led to the violence.
During two news conferences on Sunday, Sergeant Jeremy Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency did not take questions. He did not say if a suspect was in custody or if investigators knew about any motivation. He did not provide the names of those killed.
“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,” he said.
The Montgomery Advertiser newspaper reported that one of the four people killed during the violence was a high school football player who was among those attending his sister’s “Sweet 16” birthday party when a gunman opened fire.
The newspaper, quoting the victim’s grandmother, identified the slain teenager as Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, whom she said was set to graduate in a matter of weeks and planned to attend Jacksonville State University on a football scholarship.
“He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face,” Anette Allen told the newspaper, calling it “a million-dollar smile”.
Dowdell’s mother was among those hurt in the shooting.
“Everybody’s grieving,” Allen said.
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 3,200 residents. The scene was cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape on Sunday.
Keenan Cooper, the DJ at the party, told WBMA-TV that the party was stopped briefly when attendees heard someone had a gun. He said people with guns were asked to leave, but no one left.
Cooper said when the shooting began an hour later, some people took shelter under a table where he was standing, and others ran out.
Pastor Jason Whetstone, who leads the Christian Faith Fellowship, said the granddaughter of one of his church members was shot in the foot and underwent surgery on Sunday.
“All of our hearts are hurting right now. We’re just trying to pull together to find strength and comfort,” Whetstone said before an interfaith vigil in the parking lot of First Baptist Church.
The bloodshed in Alabama marked the third high-profile mass shooting in as many weeks in southern US, following separate outbreaks of deadly gun violence in Tennessee and Kentucky that prompted local leaders to call for tighter gun control measures.
Dadeville itself was shaken by at least one prior mass shooting in August of 2016, when a gunman wounded five people during a party at an American Legion hall, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear?” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday.
Biden called the rising gun violence in the US “outrageous and unacceptable,” and urged the country’s Congress to pass laws to make firearms manufacturers more liable for gun violence, ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require safe storage of firearms and background checks for gun sales.
Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Raymond Porter said counseling would be provided at area schools on Monday, and 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 killings in Dadeville came five days after a bank employee shot dead five colleagues and wounded nine other people at his workplace in Louisville, Kentucky.
On March 27, three nine-year-olds and three staff members were killed at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, by a former student.
Mass shootings have become commonplace in the US, with more than 163 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 any in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not including the shooter. – Al Jazeera.