DADEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Two teenagers have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with a shooting that killed four young people at a Sweet Sixteen birthday party, Alabama investigators announced Wednesday.
Tallapoosa County District Attorney Mike Segrest said the pair — Ty Reik McCullough, 17, and Travis McCullough, 16, both of Tuskegee — would be tried as adults. That’s automatically required in Alabama for anyone 16 or older charged with murder.
Sgt. Jeremy J. Burkett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency wouldn’t say where the two are being jailed, or whether they were already in custody when they were charged late Tuesday. Authorities did not specify if they’re related.
“We can’t get into a motive right now, because that would be part of an ongoing investigation,” Burkett added. “We can’t share that.”
Segrest said prosecutors would ask a judge to hold them without bail. A bond hearing must be held by Friday under Alabama law. Online court records do not show any previous adult charges in state court for either of the arrested teens.
Saturday’s violence shocked Dadeville, a sleepy town of 3,200 about 45 minutes north of Tuskegee. The shooting was the 16th mass killing of the year in the United States. A 17th took place in Maine on Tuesday. A total of 88 people have died in the killings so far in 2023.
A mass killing is defined as when four or more people were slain, other than the perpetrator, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
The birthday girl’s brother, 18-year-old Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell of Camp Hill, died in his sister’s arms. He and another victim, 17-year-old Shaunkivia Nicole “KeKe” Smith of Dadeville, were high school seniors. Families were left planning funerals instead of graduation celebrations.
Also killed were Marsiah Emmanuel “Siah” Collins, 19, of Opelika and Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, of Dadeville. Another 32 people were wounded and Segrest said four are still in critical condition. He said more charges would be coming.
“We’re going to make sure every one of those victims has justice, not just the deceased,” Segrest said, speaking to reporters from the steps of the Tallapoosa County courthouse.
A family member of KeKe Smith was thankful for the arrests.
“It don’t make the hurt any easier. But we are relieved that they (the suspects) are not out in the community,” Amy Jackson said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. Alexis Dowdell’s birthday party was being held at a dance studio just off the town square. Witnesses said multiple people began shooting some time after her mother paused the celebration to ask people with guns to leave.
“It’s Lexi’s 16th birthday party, Sweet Sixteen,” Segrest said. “There’s uncut cake and unburned 16 candles that never got lit. Lexi’s brother was one of the victims. On her 16th birthday party, she knelt by her brother as he took his last breath.”
Alexis Dowdell told The Associated Press on Monday said her brother pushed her down onto a blood-slick floor during the shooting. “I guess he tried to push me out the door as fast as he could.” She and her mother, Latonya Allen, ran away, but returned to find Phil Dowdell bleeding to death and fading in and out of consciousness.
Phil Dowdell was a star wide receiver with plans to play college football at Jacksonville State University. Smith was a talented athlete who became a team manager after she was sidelined by a knee injury. Collins was a 2020 Opelika High School graduate who planned to start college in the fall after taking a year off to try his hand at music. Holston was a 2018 Dadeville High graduate and former athlete at the school.
Segrest said dozens of teens from multiple nearby towns attended the party, spreading trauma across the region like a “wave.”
“There were so many kids in this venue and what they saw, they’re victims in this,” he said. “Their families are victims of this.”
The district attorney said that grand jurors typically meet in Tallapoosa County in March and September, but he said he would recall grand jurors to seek an indictment before September. “If we can establish the facts and are ready to present that, we will be asking our grand jury to come back in,” Segrest said.
This was the first police news conference since Sunday.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency had said only that shell casings from handguns had been found, noting that there was no evidence a high-powered rifle was used. Burkett again appealed for information from attendees and the public.
In 2020, Alabama had the fifth highest rate of gun deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Somebody’s got to start thinking about mama, because I know I’m tired of it and everybody behind me is tired of it,” Burkett said. “We’re tired of going to the mothers and having to tell them that these kids are not coming home.”