DADEVILLE, Ala. (WRBL) – Startling new details surfaced during Tuesday’s Aniah’s Law bond hearing for three of six defendants charged in the deadly mass shooting of four people, which also injured 32, at a Dadeville Sweet 16 party.
During testimony from the lead agent on the case, we learned witnesses told investigators the gunfire sounded like machine guns, and 89 shell casings were recovered by agents from the scene.
Investigators believe seven handguns, including one which had been illegally modified, fired rounds when gunfire erupted around 10:30 at the April 15 birthday party for 16-year-old Alexis Dowdell. Alexis’ 18-year-old brother, Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, was killed, along with Marsiah Collins, 19; Shaunkivia “Keke” Smith, 17; and Corbin Holston, 23.
During Tuesday’s hearing an investigator testified Holston was allegedly wearing a black ski mask and was seen by witnesses firing during the shooting. A gun was found on Holston’s chest after the shooting.
Investigators arrested and named Willie Brown Jr., 19 of Auburn, Johnny Brown, 20, of Tuskegee; Wilson Hill Jr., 20, of Auburn; Ty Reik McCullough, 17, of Tuskegee; and his brother Travis McCullough, 16, of Tuskegee as suspects. Prosecutors are charging them as adults with four counts of reckless murder each. A sixth suspect was also arrested, a 15-year-old from Tuskegee who has not been named. Investigators say the co-defendants all know one another and some are related.
Aniah’s Law gives judges discretion to deny bonds to defendants accused of violent crimes. Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, journalists were able to take notes with pen and paper for the hearings involving Hill, Willie Brown, and Johnny Brown. We were not allowed in for hearings involving the McCullough brothers.
The judge said he would publish his rulings within 24 hours as prosecutors argued the defendants should stay in jail for the safety of the community and themselves. Three defense attorneys argued none of their clients have a criminal history and should be allowed out on bond until trial.
District Attorney Mike Segrest first called the lead agent on the case, SBI Major Crimes Special Agent Jess Thornton, to the stand to testify. Thornton testified when he arrived at the downtown Dadeville dance studio after the shooting, there were four deceased individuals on the floor, dozens of shell casings, and blood.
The dance studio measured approximately 38 x 26 feet, and investigators believe there were 50 to 60 people inside the venue at the time of the shooting.
Investigators recovered 89 shell casings and believe seven handguns were fired. Investigators say at least one of the handguns had been illegally modified to produce rapid gunfire like an automatic. Thornton testified that witnesses told investigators the gunfire sounded like machine guns.
Agent Thornton testified that shortly before the shooting a music speaker fell inside and caused a loud noise at the party. Investigators believe the noise startled several people at the party, and some indicated they had guns on them. Detectives testified that’s when a parent got on the microphone and asked everyone 18 and older to leave the party. The parent also asked everyone who had a gun to leave the party.
Agent Thornton testified two firearms were recovered at the scene. A handgun was found on the chest of 23-year-old Corbin Holston, who was killed in the shooting. Thornton testified it was unusual to find a gun on a victim’s chest that way. He also testified witnesses told detectives Holston was seen wearing a black ski mask and firing a weapon during the shooting. Shell casings found at the scene matched the gun located on Holston’s chest.
Another handgun was found in the waistband of 19-year-old Marsiah Collins, who was killed in the shooting. Agent Thornton testified the gun on Collins had not been fired.
Agent Thornton testified after the shooting, at least five or possibly all six of the defendants gathered at a Tallassee parking lot. We now know they had learned about the Sweet 16 party when it was shared on social media.
Agent Thornton testified five of the six defendants told investigators they were at the party and had fired weapons, and only Willie Brown denied being involved in the shooting. However, Thornton testified Brown was a suspect in a separate shooting in Auburn, and shell casings collected from the Auburn scene matched .40 caliber casings located at the birthday party.
Investigators have not publicly disclosed a motive in the killings. We did learn the suspects knew people at the birthday party.
The 32 who were injured included at least 15 teenagers who suffered gunshot wounds. Four remain in serious and critical conditions.