At least four people were killed and 28 wounded in a shooting that erupted during a late-night "Sweet 16" birthday celebration at a dance studio in the small town of Dadeville, Alabama, state police and local news media said on Sunday.
Some of the injured were critically wounded during the shooting in east-central Alabama, about 60 miles (100 km) northeast of the state capital of Montgomery, authorities said. There was no official word on what led to the gun violence.
Authorities said the shooting started shortly after 10:30pm CT on Saturday but they declined to answer questions or provide further details during two Sunday news conferences.
Officials said there was no longer any threat to the community but did not say whether a suspect has been killed or arrested.
"We're going to continue to work in a very methodical way to go through this scene, to look at the facts, and ensure that justice is brought to bear for the families," said Jeremy Burkett, a sergeant with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
The Montgomery Advertiser newspaper reported that one of the four people killed during the violence was a high school football player who was among those attending his sister's "Sweet 16" birthday party when a gunman opened fire.
The newspaper, quoting the victim's grandmother, identified the slain teenager as Phil Dowdell, whom she said was set to graduate in a matter of weeks and planned to attend Jacksonville State University on a football scholarship.
Reuters could not independently confirm the information or learn the identities of the other three victims.
The party was being held inside the Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio, converted from an old bank building located about half a block from city hall in Dadeville, a town of about 3,200 residents. The scene was cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape on Sunday.
Hundreds of community members gathered early on Sunday evening in a parking lot a few blocks from the shooting scene for an outdoor prayer vigil.
'What has our nation come to?'
The bloodshed in Alabama marked the third high-profile mass shooting in as many weeks in the US South, following separate outbreaks of deadly gun violence in Tennessee and Kentucky that prompted local leaders to call for tighter gun control measures.
Dadeville itself was shaken by at least one prior mass shooting in August of 2016, when a gunman wounded five people during a party at an American Legion hall, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
"What has our nation come to when children cannot attend a birthday party without fear?" President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday.
Biden called the rising gun violence in the US "outrageous and unacceptable," and urged the US Congress to pass laws to make firearms manufacturers more liable for gun violence, ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require safe storage of firearms and background checks for gun sales.
Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Raymond Porter said counseling would be provided at area schools on Monday, and asked local clergy to help families through the situation.
"We will make every effort to comfort those children and don't lose sight of the fact that those are the ones most impacted by this situation," Porter said.
Meanwhile, Republicans vying for their party's 2024 presidential nomination and other prominent party members sought to cast themselves as unwaveringly supportive of gun rights without restrictions in Indiana over the weekend at the annual conference of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the country's largest gun lobby.
The killings in Dadeville came five days after a bank employee shot dead five colleagues and wounded nine other people at his workplace in Louisville, Kentucky. On March 27, three 9 year olds and three staff members were killed at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, by a former student.
Mass shootings have become commonplace in the US, with more than 163 so far in 2023, the most at this point in the year since at least 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit group defines a mass shooting as any in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not including the shooter.