Skip to Content

Honoring Dadeville’s Strength: Embracing Resilience in the Face of Tragedy

At midday, the town square of Dadeville resonates with the melodic tones of a church organ. Dominating the skyline is a striking blue and white water tower proudly displaying the inscription “Home of the Dadeville Tigers,” overlooking a cluster of quaint red-bricked structures and storefronts.

Amid the square, the former site of the Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio stands vacant, available for rent a year after a tragic shooting marred a Sweet 16 celebration, resulting in the loss of four lives and injuring 32 individuals, including numerous children and young adults. However, the community has chosen a different location to gather and honor the memories of those lost—, 17; , 19; , 18; and , 23.

The residents congregated at Tiger Stadium before the prom for a poignant lantern lighting and release ceremony.

Describing Smith, Teneeshia Johnson, a member of the Dadeville city council, expressed, “She was undoubtedly one of God’s angels.”

Despite the profound losses and the lingering anguish from that fateful day, the residents express their desire for Dadeville to be recognized not for the tragedy but for the remarkable unity and support that emerged within the tight-knit community to aid the survivors.

Shaunkivia Nicole “Keke” Smith remains a poignant figure in the hearts of many.

On a Sunday afternoon, locals gathered at Keebler Park, where newly installed benches bearing the names of the victims stand as a tribute. Additionally, a memorial program is scheduled at the Dadeville High School football field on Monday at 8 p.m.

Mayor Jimmy Frank Goodman Sr. emphasized, “It’s the people that make the change. Dadeville is headed in the right direction.”

Events Unfold in Dadeville

As families and survivors grapple with grief, the details of the tragic night remain shrouded in confusion. The circumstances leading to the incident and the motives behind it still elude comprehension. Six individuals were subsequently apprehended and charged with reckless murder, including Johnny Letron Brown of Tuskegee; Willie George Brown Jr. of Auburn; Wilson LaMar Hill Jr. of Auburn; Sherman Peters III of Tuskegee; and siblings Tyreese McCullough and Travis McCullough, also from Tuskegee, with three of them being minors.

Despite the ongoing legal proceedings, no trials have taken place for Johnny Brown, Willie Brown, Wilson Hill, and Sherman Peters. The authorities have maintained silence on the possible motives, with District Attorney Mike Segrest unavailable for comment.

The building that once housed the Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio, the site of the tragic shooting that claimed multiple lives and caused injuries, remains a haunting reminder of the events of April 15, 2023.

On the harrowing night of the incident, Mayor Goodman was roused from his slumber by a distressing call, propelling him to the local Lake Martin Community Hospital. The scenes of distraught mothers anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones, coupled with the chaos and trauma within the emergency room, left an indelible mark on him.

Amidst the chaos and confusion, LaTonya Allen’s vigilance in spotting firearms in the vicinity and urging their removal underscored the tense atmosphere preceding the outbreak of gunfire. The subsequent hail of bullets, emanating from multiple weapons, including potentially modified firearms, inflicted devastating consequences. The aftermath revealed a staggering 89 shell casings and a grim tally of casualties, including young individuals like cheerleaders and Cara Johns.

Reflections on Tragedy

The aftermath of the tragedy evoked profound emotions and stirred a wave of solidarity and support from across the nation. Ben Hayes, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dadeville, recounted the overwhelming outpouring of financial aid and assistance extended to the affected families.

The community rallied together, with donations exceeding $240,000 to aid the victims and survivors, reflecting a testament to the compassion and generosity that defined the response to the tragedy.

However, amidst the healing process, questions linger about what could have averted the catastrophe. While legislative measures are under consideration, the prevailing sentiment among local leaders like Mayor Goodman and Rep. Ed Oliver is that changes in gun control laws may not have preempted the tragedy.

In response to the need for long-term support and guidance, initiatives such as a mentorship program have been initiated to provide mentorship to young individuals, emphasizing conflict resolution and mental health awareness.

Dadeville High students have taken proactive steps by establishing a Youth Community Council to address mental health challenges among their peers, aiming to destigmatize discussions around mental well-being.

Continuing the Legacy

The community’s resilience and unity shine through as they navigate the aftermath of the tragedy. Amy Jackson, cousin of Shaunkivia Smith, highlighted the ongoing support provided to the family, emphasizing the importance of preserving Smith’s memory and aspirations.

A gala organized in memory of Shaunkivia Smith aims to raise funds for an annual scholarship, honoring her dream of pursuing a career in nursing. The event serves as a platform to celebrate Smith’s vibrant spirit and spread awareness about mental health and healing after trauma.

Teneeshia Johnson echoed the sentiments of a transformed community, emphasizing the enduring impact of the tragedy and the remarkable spirit of compassion and solidarity that emerged in its wake.