Iowa school shooting survivors recall terror of attack that killed a sixth grader and injured several other people




As students at Iowa’s Perry High School dug into cafeteria breakfasts and wrapped up band practice Thursday morning, one of their peers stepped into the building with two guns and began firing, killing a sixth grader and injuring several other people, and sending kids and teachers scrambling for safety – all before the new semester’s first class had begun.

Investigators still are looking for the motive of the 17-year-old gunman, student Dylan Butler, who was found at the school near Des Moines with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation. A law enforcement official told CNN the shooter is dead.

Four students were injured, Mortvedt said. The school’s principal, Dan Marburger, also was wounded, according to officials in another school district.

At first, the gunshots were mistaken by some as disruptive noise – a popped balloon, a dropped bag – two witnesses said. But panic and fear quickly spread as faculty and students realized the threat.

“The whole cafeteria went silent,” high school student Angie Orellana, who was in the cafeteria when the shooting began, told CNN. “Then more shots continued and everything just went into chaos. I just saw the principal start running and all my friends, and I just got out of there.”

Student Rachael Kares was sitting through the last minutes of jazz band practice when she heard four shots resound through the hall, she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday. A burning smell began to linger in the air, she said, and then another shot came.

“Our band teacher looked at us, and he just goes, ‘Run!’ None of us hesitated. We just all got up and ran,” Kares said.

She and her friends ran outside, trying to get “anywhere away from school,” Kares said. “We just kept going.”

The shooting happened before classes began at the high school, which shares a campus with Perry Middle School. “It’s our understanding that there was a breakfast program going on, so there may have been students of different grades … in the school at that time,” Mortvedt said Thursday.

More than 150 state, federal and local law enforcement officers converged on the school, Mortvedt said. The first officers to arrive found students and staff sheltering in place or running from the building, Mortvedt said.

Inside, officers discovered the wounded gunman, as well as a rudimentary explosive device, which authorities rendered safe, he said. The teen had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and small-caliber handgun, he said.

The attack was one of at least five mass shootings that have unfolded in the United States in 2024, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It also marks the second shooting on a US school property this year, according to a CNN analysis.

The slain sixth grader, who had yet to be publicly identified, was “the sweetest boy, the one you want your kids to be friends with,” Perry resident Jessica Conrad told CNN.

The principal, Marburger, was identified as one of the wounded in a statement from the Easton Valley Community School District in eastern Iowa, where Marburger graduated. The district said it learned of his injury through “family connections we have in our area.”

Marburger has worked at schools in Perry for at least 25 years, according to the Perry Community School District’s directory.

“This senseless tragedy has shaken our entire state to the core,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday. “I want you to know that we’ll work tirelessly to get the answers so that we can prevent it from happening again.”

As part of the investigation, authorities are examining several social media posts made by the gunman around the time of the attack, officials said, though they did not elaborate on the nature of the posts.

All Perry district schools will be closed Friday and counseling will be made available as students and community members grapple with the tragedy.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Kares said. “This is like one of those things where you see on TV and you’re like that never gonna linger its way toward my community, but it does happen. It’s really real.”

Stunned community searches for healing

Community members gather for a candlelight vigil Thursday night. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mourners gathered for a vigil at a local park Thursday night, clutching candles as speakers shared messages of strength, sympathy and unity.

“Even though we are in a tiny town, the whole world is wrapping its arms around us tonight,” said former Perry school student Andrea Niemeyer, who noted she’s received condolences from as far as Washington state.

“We’ll get through this because we have each other,” she added.

Some expressed shock and disbelief, including a mother who said her husband tried to drop their children off early at the school, but were turned away.

“I just found all throughout the morning as the time progressed that I would kind of lose my breath as I realized how lucky that was,” the mother, Mindy Farmer, said.

Later in the day, the question, “What now?” began to weigh on her, Farmer said. “I think you can start to feel kind of powerless.”

Several attendees offered up prayers, including local pastor Kathy Benton, who prayed for the students who “are going be dealing with the memories and the sounds and everything.”

“We pray for healing of their minds. We pray for healing of their emotions,” she said.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz, Amy Simonson, Evan Perez, Aaron Pellish, Caroll Alvarado, Sharif Paget, Dakin Andone and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.


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