Hundreds of people from the tight-knit, east Alabama town of Dadeville and surrounding areas filled a large portion of the First Baptist Church Dadeville parking lot Sunday evening (April 16) for a time of prayer. The gathering also served as an opportunity to comfort one another.
It had only been about 18 hours since a shooter or shooters left four people dead and 28 wounded at an April 15 Sweet 16 birthday party. Many in the community, including those organizing and leading the prayer vigil, were functioning on adrenaline — and somewhat in a state of shock — after spending a heartbreaking night with families at the hospital.
An earlier afternoon prayer vigil also took place April 16, which included a message from Mayor Jimmy “Frank” Goodman.
“We are a close-knit city,” he said. “We don’t cater to saying white or black because we are all one. I’m proud for the way this city has come together and helps one another as one. We all have been affected by this.”
‘Get through this together’
Fred Hutcherson, pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Dadeville and a law enforcement official, spoke at both prayer vigils.
“We are going through something we never thought we would see. The city is hurting,” he said.
“We are a village that will come together to take care of our children. … We are a village that will show love in the midst of these trying times.
“Young people, you are not going through this by yourselves. We are here for you. Each and every one of us that is surrounding you is loving you,” Hutcherson shared during the evening prayer vigil. “We are going to get through this together.”
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, described the “unspeakable hurt” as “our 9/11 moment.”
“This wound will take a good while, if ever, to heal. We will never forget this,” he said. “We find ourselves without words. … This is not a time for politics. It is a time to lean on the strength of the Lord Jesus.
“Lord, in this moment, may we be at peace knowing You have overcome the world.”
High school students
Those who died in the shooting have been identified as high school seniors Phil Dowdell and KeKe Nichole Smith and graduates Marsiah Collins and Corbin Holston.
Several leaders have referenced the need to let law enforcement do their jobs and the importance of sharing information with law enforcement. They also are speaking out against any potential retaliation acts.
A Facebook post from the Dadeville High School “Student Section” states in part:
“To the witnesses, and families: May God be with you guys through the hard times to come! Our thoughts are with you all! Do not be afraid to reach out for help! Please find it in your hearts to desire to do the right thing, retaliation isn’t the answer; prayer and trusting in our law enforcement is. We love each and everyone of y’all! Go tigers forever!”
Schools prep for first day back
School officials said counselors would be on hand Monday (April 17) for students as they return to school for the first time since the shooting. Along with Dadeville High School, Reeltown and Horseshoe Bend high schools reportedly will follow a similar plan of allowing students time to process together what happened.
Area ministers, as well as Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains, planned to be available to the schools as well and were at the prayer vigil to serve as a listening ear, pray for individuals and give a hug when needed.
FBC Dadeville pastor Ben Hayes helped organize the Disaster Relief chaplains while also serving as the Dadeville police department chaplain. His wife, Sonya, prayed for and comforted people throughout the prayer vigil in her DR chaplain role, and Tallapoosa Baptist Association director of missions James Smith recruited pastors and ministers to serve at the schools.
Smith and his wife, Jerilyn, also participated in the prayer vigil as did a group of DR chaplains who drove in from across the region, including Autauga Association lead mission strategist Mel Johnson and state DR strategist Mark Wakefield.
Pastors from across the state and Southeast also showed their support throughout the day April 16 through social media posts, personal messages and by attending the prayer vigil. Countless others are praying and sending notes of encouragement and support.