By STEVE KARNOWSKI
A small town in Iowa is stunned but pulling together after a school shooting in which a 17-year-old killed a sixth-grade student and wounded seven other people before authorities say he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Many questions remain about how the shooting unfolded and what might have led up to it, but a few details have emerged.
Here are some things to know about Thursday’s shooting at Perry High School:
According to authorities and school officials, a teenage student armed with a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun opened fire at Perry High School just after 7:30 a.m. Thursday, shortly before classes were set to begin on the first day back after winter break. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation spokesman Mitch Mortvedt said the shooting started in the cafeteria, where students from several grades were eating breakfast, then spilled outside the cafeteria.
The student who was killed, 11-year-old Ahmir Jolliff, was shot three times, though details about where he was at the time have not been released. Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger and six others, including two staff members and four teenage students, suffered injuries ranging from significant to minor. The high-schooler identified as the shooter, Dylan Butler, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.
Butler also had what authorities called a “rudimentary” improvised explosive device that was safely disarmed.
Police said they believe Butler acted alone.
STORIES OF SELFLESSNESS
While authorities have said little about what happened inside the school, some stories of bravery and selflessness have begun to emerge.
Authorities have said Marburger, who has been principal since 1995, put himself in harm’s way in an apparent effort to protect students. Perry Superintendent Clark Wicks said Marburger was a “hero” who intervened with Butler so students could escape. Wicks said other staff also acted heroically, including Middle School Assistant Principal Adam Jessen who “carried a wounded student into a safe area.”
The principal’s daughter, Claire Marburger, posted on Facebook Friday night that cards were coming in from community members and students. She said her favorite, which made her and family members laugh and smile, read, “not all heroes wear capes, some are the school principal.”
One mother, Bobbi Bushbaum, posted on Facebook that her son Corey was shot multiple times, but was able to stumble to a nearby field. When she arrived, she saw him being helped toward an ambulance by others, whom she thanked, saying: “I would like them to know my son wouldn’t be here without them.”
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE?
Authorities haven’t said.
But a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said federal and state investigators were interviewing Butler’s friends and analyzing Butler’s social media profiles, including posts on TikTok and Reddit. Shortly before Thursday’s shooting, Butler 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 also have found posted photos of Butler posing with firearms, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Two friends and their mother who spoke with the AP said Butler was a quiet person who had been bullied relentlessly since elementary school. Sisters Yesenia Roeder and Khamya Hall, both 17, said alongside their mother, Alita, that it escalated recently when Butler’s younger sister started getting picked on, too.
Wicks wouldn’t discuss whether Butler had been bullied, but he defended the way his district responds to bullying.
“We take every bullying situation seriously and our goal is to always have that safe and inviting atmosphere,” Wicks told reporters Friday.
THE BOY WHO WAS KILLED
Ahmir Jolliff, whose family knew him as “Smiley,” was a whirlwind of cheerful activity. The 11-year-old had dashed out of his home Thursday morning, eager to see his friends on the first day back. His mother, Erica Jolliff, told the AP he loved soccer, played the tuba and sang in choir. He had a habit of touching people on their shoulder and asking them how their day was.
Ahmir, who attended the middle school connected to the high school, was shot three times.
“He was so well-loved and he loved everyone,” she said. “He’s such an outgoing person.”
A COMMUNITY COMES TOGETHER
Perry Mayor Dirk Cavanaugh expressed confidence Friday that his community would get through the painful experience together.
“We are a small town, but we will pull together in a big way to get through this,” Cavanaugh told reporters.
In a show of solidarity and support for Perry, Des Moines is illuminating three bridges in the city in blue, the official school color of the Perry district.
“For the next week, as you pass by or visit the bridges lit in blue, take a moment to pause to consider those affected by the senseless tragedy at Perry High School, and the families whose safety and sense of normalcy was shattered by the shooting,” Des Moines Mayor Connie Boesen said Saturday.
Perry has about 8,000 residents and is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Des Moines. It’s home to a large pork-processing plant and is more diverse than Iowa as a whole. Census figures show 31% of residents are Hispanic, versus less than 7% statewide. Nearly 19% were born outside the U.S.
Wicks said the high school will remain closed for the entire coming week while it is cleaned and repaired. He said Friday will be the earliest that classes for elementary and middle-school students could resume.
THE POLITCAL CONTEXT
Questions about the shooting kept bubbling up as candidates swung through the state Thursday and Friday, but didn’t disrupt their pitches to conservative caucus-goers. It reflects both Republican resistance to restrictions on guns and how commonplace school attacks have become.
At a pair of CNN town halls Thursday night, the first questions to both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley were about guns. Both answered by stressing the need for more mental health services and school security.
Former President Donald Trump briefly mentioned the shooting at a rally Friday night in Sioux Center, Iowa.
“It’s a very terrible thing that happened,” Trump said. “And it’s just terrible. To see that happening. That seems terrible. So surprising to see it here. But we have to get over it. We have to move forward. We have to move forward.”
Associated Press writer Mike Balsamo in New York contributed to this story.