Dadeville shooting victim Phil Dowdell was ‘all that was right with the world’

By: - April 20, 2023 8:03 pm
Black and gold balloons in the sky

The family of Phil Dowdell let 100 balloons in the sky in his memory at a vigil in Camp Hill, Alabama on April 20, 2023. Dowdell was one of four people killed in a mass shooting in Dadeville on April 15. (Jemma Stephenson/Alabama Reflector)

Camp Hill is a town of only roughly 1,000 people, but hundreds of people gathered at Mt. Lovely Baptist Church Thursday night to honor Philstavious Dowdell’s life.

“He represented all that was right with the world,” Messiah Williams-Cole, the town’s mayor, said.

Dowdell, 18, was one of four people killed in a mass shooting at his sister’s Sweet 16 birthday party, along with Marsiah Collins, 19; Corbin Dahmontrey Holston, 23, and Shaunkiva “KeKe” Smith, 17. 32 people were injured. 

Speakers remembered Dowdell as a star athlete and a kind young man. Williams-Cole said that Dowdell could be considered a man. 

“Not only a testament of him, but this community,” he said. “A testament to his family, a testament to each and every one of y’all who saw Phil and uplifted him.”

Dowdell’s cousin, Helen Black, who spoke at the vigil on behalf of the family, said they didn’t need to worry about Dowdell in the afterlife, because they knew he lived life correctly.

“God needed a star player,” she said. “And now, he has one of the best.”

She said that many people gathered had looked up to Dowdell when he was on Earth, and now they “really have a reason to look up to him.”

As of Thursday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency had arrested five people in connection with the shooting. The victims and suspects have all been identified as 23 or younger. Investigators have not discussed possible motives for the shooting or the suspects’ connections to the victims. 

All five of the suspects in the case are being held in Tallapoosa County Jail without bond. ALEA says they have each been charged with four counts of “reckless murder.” “Reckless murder” is not a specific charge in the Code of Alabama. Messages seeking comment have been left with ALEA. 

Guns are the leading cause of death for people younger than 24 in the country, according to a 2022 analysis of CDC data. Alabama has the third highest rate for homicide in the country, according to the CDC, andranks fifth in firearm mortality.

More people died from guns in 2020 in Alabama than in New York. New York has four times Alabama’s population. 

Near the end of the vigil, the family was given 100 balloons to send into the air as the sun set over Camp Hill. The balloons were black and gold, the colors of Dadeville High School, where Dowdell attended.

Angela Harris, the mother of Aniah Blachard, came out to Camp Hill to speak that night. Blanchard was murdered in 2019.

Harris said that she had been invited to speak at Dadeville High School, and, when she did, Dowdell had stood out to her. 

“He made an impression, and I saw his glow,” she said.

Harris said she wanted to speak at Dowdell’s vigil after learning that he had been killed. 

She said she had no words, but Dowdell will always be remembered.

“We all need to be coming together, so our children can have a good life, so they can go to a birthday party, and nothing happens,” she said. “So they can go buy a bag of chips at the store without getting kidnapped and shot.”

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.