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What we know about the shooting at a birthday party in Alabama

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There are still more questions than answers today after a mass shooting over the weekend at a birthday party in the small Alabama town of Dadeville, population just over 3,000. Four people were killed, and at least 28 were injured. Police say their investigation is ongoing. And since the shooting Saturday night, authorities have released little information about what happened and why. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Dadeville. Hi, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So what can you tell us at this point about what exactly happened on Saturday?

ELLIOTT: Well, we really don't have any more details today than we had, you know, yesterday. We know that the shooting happened right off the town square - it's one of those little historic town squares - in a dance studio that had been rented out for a sweet 16 birthday party. Today there does appear to be a cleaning and remediation crew at that building, and people have laid out a couple of bouquets of flowers on the sidewalk out front.

The only new information today is coming from the Tallapoosa County coroner, who identified the four young people killed. They were 23-year-old Corbin Holston of Dadeville - local residents tell me he is a former football player at Dadeville High School - 18-year-old Philstavious Dowdell of Camp Hill, a senior at Dadeville High School - everyone here calls him Phil. He was a well-loved football player who was about to graduate and then go on and play in college. It was his sister's sweet 16 birthday party where this happened. The other two, 19-year-old Marsiah Emmanuel Collins of Opelika, a nearby town - local press reports say he was headed to LSU next year and was a musician. And then 17-year-old Shaunkivia Nicole Smith, also a senior at Dadeville High - people here call her KeKe and say she was always smiling and worked as a manager for a couple of sports teams at the school.

CHANG: God. Well, I know, Debbie, that you've been talking to people there who are still processing. What are they saying to you?

ELLIOTT: You know, it's just a lot of sadness and shock that this happened here. Pastor Richard Jacobs with New Popular Springs Missionary Baptist Church told me some members of his congregation were at that party. And he says people are just really struggling to understand.

RICHARD JACOBS: Right now each and every person in this community is facing a tragedy. Such a small-knit community like we are and as close as we are, this impact has affected everybody, from the schools to local businesses. These are individuals and kids that you see every day, that you know their parents. You know their siblings. And we're still just trying to process the situation.

ELLIOTT: Ailsa, two main themes from people here that I've been talking with today. No. 1, if you think your little town is immune from mass shootings, think again.

CHANG: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: No one is immune. And secondly, why? No one seems to have an answer as to what caused a celebration to turn deadly.

CHANG: So no details so far about a possible motive.

ELLIOTT: No. I did speak briefly with the Dadeville police chief, Jonathan Floyd, and he asked for patience.

JONATHAN FLOYD: We're working diligently. We're following up on every lead that we've got. We're going to be very methodical. We're not going to make any mistakes. Our ultimate goal here is successful prosecution.

ELLIOTT: So Floyd declined to comment on whether authorities have a suspect in custody. He did say he's asking witnesses to come forward with anything they might have, including photos or videos from the party. It sounds very much like this is an active investigation, but it's also just completely unclear whether a suspect or suspects - plural - could still be at large.

CHANG: Right.

ELLIOTT: So there's just lots of questions remaining.

CHANG: Indeed. That is NPR's Debbie Elliott in Dadeville, Ala. Thank you so much, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.