A sixth-grader is dead and six others injured—one critically—after a school shooting at Perry High School in Perry, Iowa.
On Friday, authorities identified 11-year-old Ahmir Jolliff as the slain child. His cause of death was three gunshot wounds.
The incident happened just after 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024, the first day back for students. Classes had not yet started for the day, but officials said students were gathered for breakfast.
Officials said 17-year-old Dylan Butler, armed with a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun, shot and killed one sixth-grade student and wounded five others before shooting and killing himself.
Perry Police, who were first on the scene according to officials, also found an improvised explosive device in the school, which they safely detonated.
Officials say the shooter acted alone and no other explosives were found.
What law enforcement says
Dallas County Sheriff Adam Infante said during a 10 a.m. press conference that officials found “multiple gunshot victims” after getting notified of a school shooting at 7:37 a.m. Thursday.
Infante noted that school had not started at 7:37 a.m., “luckily, so there was very few students and faculty in the building, which I think contributed to a good outcome in that sense.”
Later that afternoon, Mitch Mortvedt with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said one of the five injured victims was in critical condition, while the other four “appeared to be stable.” The shooter was identified at that time as well.
On Friday, authorities announced two more victims bringing the total to seven. Four of the victims are students and three are school staff members, including Principal Dan Marburger who authorities said “acted selflessly and placed himself in harm’s way in an apparent effort to protect his students.” Marburger sustained multiple gunshot wounds and he and two students remain hospitalized.
No other victims have been named and officials were still investigating the shooter’s motive.
What Perry High School students and faculty say
Perry High School Teacher Lori Meinecke told Raccoon Valley Radio that at around 7:40 a.m., she heard six or seven gunshots, followed by the voices of several school coaches telling everyone to evacuate the area.
Kamron Hall, 15, told Starting Line it was “terrifying.”
“I saw kids running—I didn’t get what was going on, because when I first heard the gunshots, I thought it was just banging on the table,” Hall told Starting Line’s Ty Rushing.
But it quickly got deadly serious.
“I heard someone screaming, ‘Get out, get the fuck out,'” Hall said. “And I was near the cafeteria, where apparently the shooting was happening … It scares me to think I could have been one of those students that got, like, shot or killed.”
A Perry High School student told Starting Line she and three other students barricaded themselves in the counselor’s office with their counselor when the shooting began, saying she was told to “get ready to start throwing things.”
“I get to my car, and they’re taking a girl out of the auditorium who had been shot in her leg,” the student said, breaking into tears.
“Of course I want to call my mom, I want to call other people. But when we do our ALICE drills it’s, stay down, low, be quiet, don’t let people know that you’re in here,” she said. “And so I’m just scared and I want to talk to my mom, but you can’t.”
Senior Rachael Kares, 18, was finishing an early-morning jazz band practice when she and her bandmates heard four gunshots, Kares told The AP.
“We all just jumped,” Kares said. “My band teacher looked at us and yelled ‘run,’ so we ran.”
As students ran outside, Kares said she heard additional shots, but wasn’t sure how many.
“At that moment, I didn’t care about anything except getting out, because I had to get home with my son,” she said, noting she had a 3-year-old.
Zander Shelley, 15, was in a hallway waiting for the school day to start when he heard gunshots and dashed into a classroom, his father told KCCI. Zander was grazed by gunfire twice, and hid in a classroom before texting his father at 7:36 a.m.
Zander’s dad, who has two children at Perry High School, told his boss he had to go to the school right away. “It was the most scared I’ve been in my entire life,” he said.
Erica Jolliff told KCCI her daughter, a ninth grader, reported getting rushed from the school grounds at 7:45 a.m. But Jolliff was still looking for her son, Amir, a sixth grader, an hour later.
“I just want to know that he’s safe and OK,” Jolliff said. “They won’t tell me nothing.”
A Casey’s store worker told Starting Line that scared Perry students rushed into their store after the shooting, and Casey’s staff secured the building and kept them safe inside. They have since delivered pizzas to the reunification center for families.
Friends of the shooter speak
Starting Line spoke to several students who said they were friends of the shooter, Dylan Butler.
Those students say Butler sent farewell messages about 20 minutes before the first reports of the attack.
“I was working and I got a text message [from him] telling me that he was thankful for me and that he was glad that he met me and that I was a really good friend,” said one of the teens.
The friends said other students had bullied Butler since elementary school.
“He was hurting. He got tired, he got tired of the bullying, he got tired of the harassment. Was it a smart idea to shoot up the school? No! God, no,” a friend said.
Streets for several blocks were barricaded Thursday morning, and a medical helicopter landed at the school at 8:30 a.m., according to the Register. Several other ambulances were seen coming and going, according to KCCI. All schools had been briefly locked down.
All district classes were canceled for the day, according to KCCI, and parents began picking up their children at 8:50 a.m. Middle school students were moved to the reunification location, while the McCreary Center was the pickup location for elementary students and those in daycare.
Classes were also canceled for Friday for the entire Perry district, according to Raccoon Valley Radio. Des Moines Area Community College officials have closed the VanKirk Center in Perry through Sunday, Jan. 7, according to KCCI.
Counselors will be on hand from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Perry Public Library.
A prayer vigil was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Wiese Park, a ministerial leader who’s helping organize it told Starting Line.
Support and statements
LifeServe Blood Center, which provides blood donations to hospitals in the area, said they were “actively sending blood” to area hospitals after the shooting. Those wishing to donate blood can do so here.
Gov. Kim Reynolds released a statement on the shooting Thursday morning. She also appeared at the 3 p.m. press conference and said the state was “providing resources” to families.
“Our hearts are broken by this senseless tragedy,” she wrote. “Our prayers are with the students, teachers & families of the Perry Community. I have been in contact with law enforcement agencies & am continuing to monitor the situation.”
US Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley also posted statements.
“My team is in touch with officials in Dallas County about the heartbreaking situation at Perry High School. Join us in praying for the safety and recovery of those involved,” Ernst said. “Thank you to law enforcement for the swift response.”
“Todays appalling violence at Perry HS is heartbreaking,” Grassley wrote on Twitter in his characteristic abbreviated style. “Barbara + I are grateful for quick response by school officials &law enforcement to protect students +restore safety. The Perry community is strong& will band 2gether thru hard time Im here 2help if addtl fed resources needed.”
US Rep. Zach Nunn, who represents Perry in Congress, said he was “beyond angry” at the situation.
“My heart, and my commitment to holding those accountable, is with the community of Perry,” he wrote. “We have a duty to protect our children, families, and educators. … We will not rest until there is full accountability for this heinous act of violence.”
In a 2022 congressional debate, however, Nunn said he disagreed with laws restricting gun usage. On the topic of school shootings, he noted that there were existing laws to address them that merely need to be enforced, and that schools should spend money to increase their security measures and should work more closely with law enforcement.
Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek and Vice President Joshua Brown also weighed in.
“We are heartbroken by this tragedy and know that words cannot express the sorrow we feel for the victims and the pain that everyone in the community feels,” they wrote. “Iowa’s public schools are the heart of all our communities; today, our hearts are shattered.”
Action, not just thoughts and prayers, gun violence prevention groups say
Iowa Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, who represents a district just southeast of Perry, said policy changes needed to follow the shooting.
“Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is nothing we can do but pray,” she wrote on Twitter. “Take action—first step is to find community because we need to work together.” Garriott also tagged gun violence prevention groups March for Our Lives Iowa, Moms Demand Action and Iowans for Gun Safety.
Organizers and volunteers with gun violence prevention groups also weighed in.
“This is America. Students can’t even make it one day back to school after winter break without gun violence wreaking havoc in our lives,” said Brittany Kaufmann, a gun violence survivor and volunteer with Iowa Students Demand Action. “Thoughts and prayers are meaningless without the action of our leaders to do their jobs and protect our right to live. Schools everywhere should be a sanctuary for us, not a place where we have to wonder whether or not we’ll be shot. Enough is enough.”
“What should have been a day focused on sharing stories about the holidays and wishing friends and teachers a happy new year was instead spent hiding from bloodshed,” said Hope Johnson, a volunteer with the Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action. “It’s frustrating that we even have to say this, but students should feel safe going to class and not worry about whether we might get shot. To our lawmakers, we ask, once again, how many more of us have to die before you take action to put an end to this crisis?”
The groups noted guns are the second leading cause of death among children and teens in Iowa, and an average of 29 children and teens die by guns every year in the state. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children, teens, and college-aged people (ages 1 to 25) in the US.
Iowa Starting Line reporters Ty Rushing, Nikoel Hytrek, Avery Staker, and Pat Rynard contributed to this story.
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