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‘It doesn’t feel real:’ Students recall terror of Iowa school shooting that killed a sixth grader and injured 5 other people – CNN

Published January 5, 2024 By admin


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, injuring 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. He is dead, a law enforcement official told CNN. Student Dylan Butler was found at the school near Des Moines with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said the Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Investigation’s Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt.

Four students were injured, Mortvedt said. The 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 there 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 had begun 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.

The first of more than 150 federal, state and local 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, with at least four victims wounded, in 2024 – the year just five days old – in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It also marked the second shooting on a US school property this year following a year in which more than 80 such attacks erupted nationwide, a CNN analysis shows.

As part of the Iowa investigation, authorities are examining 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.

A photo posted to TikTok by Butler shortly before the shooting showed him inside a bathroom at the school with a blue duffel bag and was captioned, “Now we wait,” several news outlets, including the Associated Press, report.

The song “Stray Bullet,” by German band KMFDM, accompanied the post, the AP reported, citing a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The student gunmen who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado also had cited the groups lyrics, CNN has reported.

Law enforcement officials are analyzing the Butler post, along with others on TikTok and Reddit, and interviewing the shooter’s friends, the AP report said, citing the official.

All Perry district schools will be closed Friday, and counseling will be 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.”

The slain sixth grader, who has 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 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 learned of his injury through “family connections we have in our area,” it said. 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.”

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

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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