Police say 17-year-old killed a sixth grader and wounded five in Iowa school shooting
PERRY, Iowa (AP) — A 17-year-old opened fire at a small-town Iowa high school on the first day of school after the winter break, killing a sixth-grader and wounding five others Thursday as students barricaded in offices, ducked into classrooms and fled in panic.
The suspect, a student at the school in Perry, died of what investigators believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation official said. Authorities said one of the five people wounded was an administrator, and later identified as Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger by an eastern Iowa school district where he graduated from high school.
Authorities identified the shooter as Dylan Butler, 17, and provided no information about a possible motive.
Perry has about 8,000 residents and is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Des Moines, on the edge of the state capital's metropolitan area. It is home to a large pork-processing plant, and low-slung, single-story homes spread among trees now shorn of their leaves by winter. The high school and middle school are connected, sitting on the east edge of town.
Authorities said the shooter had a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun. Mitch Mortvedt, the state investigation division's assistant director, said during a news conference that authorities also found a "pretty rudimentary" improvised explosive device and rendered it safe.
The suspect's motive is being investigated and authorities are looking into "a number of social media posts" he made around the time of the shooting, Mortvedt added. All of the shootings occurred inside the high school, but he said other students from other grades may have been there for a breakfast program.
Perry High School senior Ava Augustus said she was awaiting a counselor in a school office when she heard three shots. Unable to flee through a small window, she and others barricaded the door and were ready to throw things if necessary.
"And then we hear 'He's down. You can go out,'" Augustus said through tears. "And I run and you can just see glass everywhere, blood on the floor. I get to my car and they're taking a girl out of the auditorium who had been shot in her leg."
Three gunshot victims were taken by ambulance to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, a spokesperson said. Some other patients were transported to a second hospital in Des Moines, a spokesperson for MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center confirmed, declining to comment on the number of patients or their statuses.
Mortvedt said one person was in critical condition but the injuries did not appear to be life-threatening. The other victims were stable, he said.
Vigils were planned Thursday evening at a park and a local church. A post on the high school's Facebook page said it would be closed Friday with counseling services being made available to students and faculty, and others in the community.
Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered all flags in Iowa to be lowered to half-staff immediately on Thursday and to remain at half-staff until sunset on Sunday, in support of the community and the school's students, families, teachers.
"This senseless tragedy has shaken our entire state to its core," Reynold said during the news conference.
In Washington, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting. FBI agents from the Omaha-Des Moines office are assisting with the investigation led by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
The shooting occurred in the backdrop of Iowa's looming first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy had a campaign event scheduled in Perry at 9 a.m. about 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the high school but canceled it to hold a prayer and intimate discussion with area residents.
Mass shootings across the U.S. have long brought calls for stricter gun laws from gun safety advocates, and Thursday's did within hours. But that idea has been a non-starter for many Republicans, particularly in rural, GOP-leaning states like Iowa.
As of July 2021, Iowa does not require a permit to purchase a handgun or carry a firearm in public, though it mandates a background check for a person buying a handgun without a permit.
Ramaswamy said the shooting is a sign of a "psychological sickness" in the country. In Des Moines, GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that gun violence "is more of a local and state issue" in an interview with the Des Moines Register and NBC News.
The high school in Perry is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District. The town is more diverse than Iowa as a whole, with census figures showing that 31% of the residents are Hispanic, compared to less than 7% for the state. Those figures also show that nearly 19% of the town's residents were born outside the U.S.
Authorities said an active shooter was reported at 7:37 a.m. Thursday and officers arrived within minutes. Emergency vehicles surrounded the middle and high school.
"Officers immediately attempted to locate the source of the threat and quickly found what appeared to be the shooter with a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Mortvedt said.
Zander Shelley, 15, was in a hallway when he heard gunshots and dashed into a classroom, according to his father, Kevin Shelley. Zander was grazed twice and hid in the classroom before texting his father at 7:36 a.m.
Kevin Shelley, who drives a garbage truck, told his boss he had to run. "It was the most scared I've been in my entire life," he said.
He later posted a photo on Facebook of his son being treated at the Methodist Medical Center and said the boy was feeling fine.
He added: "I am still shaking and tho I dont show it I'm not ok."
Rachael Kares, an 18-year-old senior, was wrapping up jazz band practice when she and her bandmates heard what she described as four gunshots, spaced apart.
"We all just jumped," Kares said. "My band teacher looked at us and yelled, 'Run!' So we ran."
Kares and many others from the school ran out past the football field, as she heard people yelling, "Get out! Get out!" She said she heard additional shots as she ran, but didn't know how many. She was more concerned about getting home to her 3-year-old son.
"At that moment I didn't care about anything except getting out," she said.