James Smith had just heard about the mass shooting in Dadeville that killed four and injured 32 in mid-April when he called Tallapoosa County’s EMA director to see how he could help.
“I called him about the shootings, but he said he’d just gotten through working over at Camp Hill,” said Smith, director of missions for Tallapoosa Baptist Association and an Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain. “That got my ears up.”
It wasn’t long before Smith had had more conversations and gone for a drive through nearby Camp Hill, a community of about 1,000 people just five miles from Dadeville. On March 26, the town got hit hard by softball-sized hail that rained down for around 15 to 20 minutes. More than 400 houses were damaged.
‘Little war zone’
“It’s like a little war zone when you look and see all the blue tarps,” Smith said.
One of the people he talked to there was Warren Tidwell, Camp Hill’s community resilience coordinator, who has been working almost nonstop to get aid for the town ever since the storm.
Tidwell said 80 to 90% of the vehicles in Camp Hill were totaled, which affects residents being able to drive to work or to a grocery store or pharmacy, neither of which they have locally.
Not only that, in the coming months “half this town is going to be uninhabitable” because of roof damage plus mold, Tidwell said. “We’ve got 85-year-old seniors living alone; they can’t mitigate mold in houses with 12-foot ceilings.”
The situation is dire, he said. Though the unemployment rate in town is low — much of the town works in automotive industrial supply — 60% of Camp Hill is below the poverty line. They can’t afford to put new roofs on homes, Tidwell said.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the town has other kinds of hurt happening at the same time — many of those affected by the shooting are from Camp Hill, Tidwell said. “We’ve got one family displaced by the hailstorm whose kid was paralyzed in the shooting.”
Smith said his “heart goes out” to the community, as they’ve been “kind of forgotten” and lost in the coverage of everything else that’s been happening.
Churches stepping in
He was glad to see that help is trickling in from Baptist churches in the area as they’ve heard about the need. As Team Rubicon arrived in April to help with tarping roofs, Smith put out the call for congregations to help feed and support them. Eighteen churches responded.
“It was a good cooperation among our churches around Dadeville to give of themselves at this tough time,” he said.
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has also provided some wood and nails through the disaster relief fund, but skilled roofers are needed to install them because of the steep pitch of the roofs on the town’s historic homes.
More help needed
Smith said having a double tragedy has been tough for the area, but he prays that good comes from it.
“I’m just praying it will be a spiritual epiphany for folks to think more about eternity and what God has done through Christ and the cross,” he said.
Tidwell said he hopes churches or individuals might start stepping in to “adopt” a homeowner and provide the resources and professional help to replace a roof.
“We’ve had grown men working here (on this project) and crying as they’ve seen how bad it is,” Tidwell said. “These are warm and welcoming folks, and they are worthy of help.”
For more information about how to help out in Camp Hill, contact Tidwell at 334-663-5472.
Dadeville shooting updates
Today (May 15) marked one month since a shooting in Dadeville at a local teen’s 16th birthday party killed four and injured 24.
Five suspects — 17-year old Ty Reik McCullough, 16-year-old Travis McCullough and 20-year-old Johnny Letron Brown, all of Tuskegee; and 20-year-old Wilson LaMar Hill and 19-year-old Willie George Brown Jr., both of Auburn — have been charged with four counts of reckless murder.
A sixth suspect was also arrested, a 15-year-old male whose name was not released because of his age.
The community continues to try to pick up the pieces after the tragedy, and the victims who survived continue to fight for their lives and deal with their injuries. Two cheerleaders — Trinity Richards, who was shot four times, and Cara Johns, who was shot three times — were the most critically injured. In early May, Johns opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting, and Richards was able to speak.
Others still dealing with serious injuries are Bre Hutchinson, 16, who was shot in the hip but released from the hospital April 24; Kendarrius Heard, 18, who was left paralyzed from his wounds; and Makai Simpson, 15, who was shot six times and has had at least two surgeries since the shooting.