A day after a shooting sent bullets flying inside a small-town Iowa high school, leaving a 6th grader dead and five others wounded, the community of Perry is somber. Yellow crime tape still lined the campus that Perry High School shares with the town’s middle school, flowers and stuffed toys had cropped up in mini memorials, and classes across the district were canceled Friday in favor of counseling.
On Thursday, a 17-year-old student opened fire at the school just after 7:30 a.m., forcing people to hunker down in classrooms and offices shortly before classes were set to begin on the first day back after winter break.
The suspect, identified as Dylan Butler, died of what investigators believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation official said. An administrator, later identified by his alma mater as Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger, was among those wounded.
In a Facebook post later that day, Marburger’s daughter said he was in “surgery all day, and is currently stable.”
Claire Marburger called her father a “gentle giant” who would want more attention on the other victims and their families and less on himself.
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.
A law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said federal and state investigators were interviewing the shooter’s friends and analyzing his social media profiles, including posts on TikTok and Reddit. However, authorities have provided no information about a possible motive in the shooting.
Shortly before Thursday’s shooting, the gunman posted a photo on TikTok inside the bathroom of Perry High School, the official said. The photo was captioned “now we wait” and the song “Stray Bullet” by the German band KMFDM accompanied it. Investigators have also found other photos he posted posing with firearms, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Two friends and their mother who spoke with The Associated Press said the teen was a quiet person who had been bullied for years.
Sisters Yesenia Roeder and Khamya Hall, both 17, said alongside their mother, Alita, that the shooter was bullied relentlessly since elementary school, but it escalated recently when his younger sister started getting picked on, too.
“He was hurting. He got tired. He got tired of the bullying. He got tired of the harassment,” Yesenia Roeder Hall said. “Was it a smart idea to shoot up the school? No. God, no.”
Rachael Kares, an 18-year-old senior, who fled jazz band rehearsal when she heard gunshots Thursday morning, said she believes Marburger would have addressed any bullying that was reported to him.
“Any instances that happened toward Dylan were resolved because my principal is an amazing man who was on top of it all,” Kares said. She added that she and her family knew Marburger well—her older sisters grew up with his daughters and his wife was one of Kares’ teachers when she was younger.
Perry Superintendent Clark Wicks and all members of the district’s school board didn’t immediately respond to questions Friday about how the school responded to the bullying the shooter’s friends described.
Police arrived within minutes after an active shooter was reported at 7:37 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.
Perry High School senior Ava Augustus 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 treated at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, a spokesperson said. Others were taken to a second hospital, a spokesperson for MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center confirmed.
Mortvedt said one person was in critical condition but the injuries didn’t appear to be life-threatening, and the others were stable.
On Thursday night, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight prayer vigil at a park where hours earlier, students had been brought to reunite with their families after the shooting. Bundled up against freezing temperatures, they listened to clergy from many faiths and heard a message of hope in both English and Spanish.
“This senseless tragedy has shaken our entire state to its core,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said.
In Washington, President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the shooting.
Classes also were closed Friday at Saint Patrick’s Catholic School, where the shooter had been a student when he was younger. The school made grief counselors available and planned a rosary for Friday night. “Our thoughts and prayers are being offered for those affected today at the High School building,” the school said in a Facebook post.
Perry has about 8,000 residents and is about 40 miles 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.
The high school is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District. Perry is more diverse than Iowa as a whole. Census figures show 31 percent of its residents are Hispanic, compared with less than 7 percent statewide. Those figures also show nearly 19 percent of the town’s residents were born outside the U.S.
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 the idea has been a non-starter for many Republicans, particularly in rural, GOP-leaning states like Iowa, which will hold its first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses Jan. 15.
As of July 2021, Iowa does not require a permit to purchase a handgun or carry a firearm in public, but it does mandate a background check for anyone buying a handgun without a permit.
Zander Shelley, 15, was in a hallway when he heard shots and dashed into a classroom, according to his father, Kevin Shelley. Zander was grazed twice and hid in the classroom before texting his father.
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.
“I am still shaking,” he added, “and tho I dont show it I’m not OK.”