Perry students share thoughts on school shooting during vigil

Photos by Nikoel Hytrek and Avery Staker of Starting Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 5, 2024

Some students were there for band practice, others for a breakfast program, and some never got into the building before shots rang out at Perry High School around 7:30 a.m. on Thursday.

At a vigil held Thursday evening, following a morning school shooting that ended with two dead and five injured, students who were there—or who should have been—shared their thoughts and gratitude to the Perry community.

“I haven’t been able to think clearly at all, all day,” said Hunter Ayers, a junior at Perry High School who had been at the school for an early-morning jazz band practice.

At first, everyone in practice thought the gunshots were pallets falling over, but as the sound continued, the band director told them to run, Hunter recalled.

Hunter ran, but then he thought about his sister and he went back for her.

“I had people shouting at me to turn around and get out, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know where my sister was,” he said.

More adults yelled for him to run, and he realized then that he could call her later. It still took him hours to calm down, he said.

“I’ve been on-and-off sleeping. I had to take a bath and I almost fell asleep in there ‘cause I just can’t think straight,” Hunter said.

He ended by offering hugs and a place to talk or vent to anyone who needed them.

Hunter wasn’t the only one who offered hugs or an open ear. The vigil started with prayers from religious figures in the area, but organizers made it clear that the microphones were there for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts about the shooting.

Candles were passed out and lit, comfort dogs were available, and there were offerings of water, hot chocolate, pop, and juice. There were also T-shirts that said “Perry Strong.”

“I’m a freshman at Perry High School, I just want to say thank you for everyone coming here today,” said Dakota H. “It really sucked today, and I really didn’t like it, but I’m glad everyone that is safe made it out. And [I’m] sending prayers to whoever passed away.”

Tony Roe, a graduate of Perry High School, sent his condolences and his thanks to all the teachers who helped students get out or stay safe.

A few parents spoke about how grateful they were to teachers and how grateful they were to have their children safe.

Jimmie Shields, a student at Perry Middle School, said he was lucky enough to be running late to get to the school.

“So I was turned away. I was able to be away from that situation,” he said, while he thanked everyone at the vigil for being there.

“I want to remind you,” Jimmie continued. “In a place where we are at weakness in grief, there is hope and strength where we can step onto and get back up.”

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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