Shooting in Perry, Iowa: 6th grader killed, 5 injured at high school

A gunman killed a sixth-grade student and wounded five other people at a high school in Perry, Iowa, early Thursday morning, just as students returned to school after winter break.

Four of the injured were students and one was an administrator, Mitch Mortvedt, deputy director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said at a news conference Thursday. One of the injured victims was in critical condition.

The administrator was identified by the Easton Valley Community School District as Dan Marburger, the principal of Perry High School, where the shooting occurred. Authorities have not released the names of other victims.

The gunman, identified as Dylan Butler, a 17-year-old high school student, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Mr. Mortvedt said. Law enforcement believes that he acted alone and that the motive for the attack is not yet known.

In Perry, a town of 8,000 people about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines, the shooting sent parents rushing to schools, businesses closed their doors early and, in the evening, residents gathered to candlelight vigils.

Hundreds of people gathered in the cold in a park Thursday evening, where ministers led the group in prayer and residents shared their accounts of what had happened that day. A high school student told the crowd that she heard the shots that morning and thought they were the sound of balloons popping. Another speaker said she knew the student who was killed, “an amazing little boy, and he was the sweetest.”

Laura Espinoza, 38, a teacher at Perry Elementary School, said she knew Mr. Marburger, the principal who was shot. She was affable, friendly and eager to get to know her students, she said.

“I feel like a lot of times you say the principal is a very serious authority figure, and he is, but he’s also a person you can hear a joke from,” he said. “Or you could tell a joke and he will laugh at it.”

Ms. Espinoza said that when school was closed that day, she went into “panic mode,” trying to protect her students while frantic for the safety of her own children.

“You just don’t imagine it happening to you,” he said. “I think we’ll go into these trainings ready to learn, but hoping you never have to use it.”

The shooting occurred just as the school day was starting. Authorities said calls about someone with a gun at Perry High School began coming in just after 7:30 a.m. and emergency responders arrived about seven minutes later at the school.

The attack occurred before the start of classes, Mortvedt said during a breakfast program aimed at students in multiple grades where the high school and middle school share the same campus.

He said that when law enforcement arrived on the scene, they found numerous victims with gunshot wounds, and students and faculty sheltering in place and running from the school.

They also found a “rudimentary” improvised explosive, Mortvedt said, and agents from the state fire marshal and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “made the device safe.”

The gunman was armed with a shotgun and a small-caliber handgun, Mr. Mortvedt said. He also made “a series of social media posts during and around the time of the shooting,” which law enforcement is investigating, Mortvedt said.

About 150 law enforcement officers responded to the scene, Mortvedt said.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a news conference Thursday that the shooting “shook us to our core” and acknowledged the “incredible coordination” of local, state and federal agencies.

The victims’ families “need your thoughts and prayers, as well as time and space to grieve,” Chief Eric Vaughn of the Perry Police Department said, fighting back tears. “This community has been through difficult times before and has rallied together. I’m sure this time will be no different.”

As of Thursday afternoon, several patients with gunshot wounds were being treated at Iowa Methodist Medical Center and MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center, the Polk County Medical Coordination Center said in a statement.

Ava Augustus, a senior at Perry High School, told WHO 13 News she was in her counselor’s office when she heard three shots. When they got the all-clear, she saw glass everywhere, blood on the floor and a student shot in the leg being carried out of the auditorium.

Jody Kurth told KCCI 8 News, a local CBS affiliate, that her stepson, a student at Perry High School, was injured in the shooting. She described the morning attack as “an absolute nightmare”.

Her daughter texted her to inform her of the murder, she said, calling it “one of the worst moments of my entire life.”

Both of her children were safe, she told KCCI.

At a community center in Perry, a bus dropped off students at the elementary school, where parents awaited the arrival of their children. One of the first parents was Amanda Woods, 34, a mother of two young children.

“At first I wasn’t sure what school it was at,” said Ms. Woods, who had been listening to the police scanner to get more information about the shooting. “I was freaking out.”

The shooting added another layer of national attention to the small community of Perry, where about 8,000 people live. Media were already in the area Thursday to cover a planned event for the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who hosted a prayer circle hours after the attack. Participants expressed fear, but little surprise.

“God, please help our country,” Ramaswamy said while speaking at the prayer event and shaking hands with everyone, calling it a “somber day”.

Ramaswamy was in Iowa ahead of the state’s Republican caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 15.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said President Biden had been briefed on the shooting.

“Our students and teachers deserve to know that their schools are safe spaces and to focus on learning, not exercises in concealment,” he said in a briefing Thursday.

In a statement on social media, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa called the “appalling violence” at Perry High School “heartbreaking” and thanked school and law enforcement officials for their quick response.

Shelbie Lehman arrived at Mr. Ramaswamy’s event with her partner after picking up her first-grade daughter from elementary school after hearing about the high school shooting.

“It’s very scary to see them take your son out with a gun and an officer, and have seven, eight police officers there,” Ms. Lehman told Mr. Ramaswamy.

Ms. Lehman said it was difficult to explain to her daughter why there were so many police and why she was picked up from school. She said that she was going to try to explain her things to her daughter later today, as best she could.

The Perry Community School District said high, middle and elementary schools will remain closed Friday.

Remy Tumin AND Vittorio Mater reported from New York, e Leah McBride Mensching from Perry, Iowa. Molly Longmann contributed reporting to Perry, and Julie Bosmann from Chicago.