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Police say 89 shell casings were found in the deadly Alabama Sweet 16 party

A bullet hole is visible in the glass transom over the door at the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio in Dadeville, Ala., on April 16, 2023.
Jeff Amy
/
AP
A bullet hole is visible in the glass transom over the door at the Mahogany Masterpiece dance studio in Dadeville, Ala., on April 16, 2023.

DADEVILLE, Ala. — An Alabama investigator on Tuesday described a bloody, chaotic crime scene littered with 89 bullet casings and other evidence after a shooting killed four young people and wounded dozens at a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. Authorities have charged six people with reckless murder.

The lead investigator in the case testified at a court hearing that could determine if the three adults accused in last week's shooting will be held without bond. The three juvenile defendants will have separate hearings. The judge did not immediately issue a ruling.

"Multiple shell casings. Blood everywhere," Special Agent Jess Thornton said. The crime scene was like nothing he'd encountered in 18 years with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, he said.

Shell casings from four types of handguns were recovered at the dance studio just off the town square in Dadeville, about an hour's drive northeast of Montgomery, Thornton said.

Evidence indicates at least one of the handguns had been altered for rapid fire, he said. "Witnesses said it sounded like a machine gun."

Investigators have not discussed a motive or what they believe led to the shooting. Thornton said the six defendants are relatives or friends. They were not invited to the party but had travelled from Auburn and Tuskegee to attend it.

Thornton said five of the six defendants admitting being at the party and firing guns. The sixth suspect did not admit being there, but the co-defendants said he was there and fired a gun, Thornton said. The investigator said at least five of the six met after the party at a parking lot in a nearby city.

The three adult defendants are Wilson LaMar Hill Jr., 20, of Auburn; Johnny Letron Brown, 20, of Tuskegee; and Willie George Brown Jr., 19, also of Auburn.

However, a defense lawyer suggested that one of the slain partygoers had fired first.

George Bulls, a lawyer for Willie Brown, asked the state investigator if there were at least some statements about one of the deceased individuals, Corbin Holston, being the one who started the shooting.

Thornton replied that was true.

Thornton testified that Holston, 23, of Dadeville, was found with a 40-caliber gun sitting on his chest. Thornton said the position of the gun, which had been fired, struck him as odd. "Almost like it was placed there," Thornton said.

Thornton said there were about 50 to 60 people crammed inside the party venue, which measured about 38 feet (12 meters) by 26 feet (8 meters), when the gunfire erupted.

Earlier in the evening there was a loud noise when a speaker fell over and at least one person lifted their shirt to indicate they had a gun, Thornton said. That led to an announcement telling people with guns to leave. The shooting happened shortly after, he said. He did not say if the person who lifted their shirt was one of the defendants.

Two Dadeville High School seniors, Phil Dowdell, 18, and Shaunkivia Nicole "KeKe" Smith, 17, were killed. Also killed were Marsiah Emmanuel "Siah" Collins, 19, and Holston, 23.

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