Perry High School shooter killed sixth-grade student, injured five others

By: and - January 4, 2024 11:09 am

(Oliver Helbig/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This has been updated with the latest details about the shooting and reaction from various public officials.

A 17-year-old student of Perry High School, armed with a shotgun, handgun and a makeshift bomb, killed a sixth-grade student and injured five others Thursday morning before the start of the school day, according to state law enforcement officials.

The perpetrator was Dylan Butler, who fatally shot himself before local police officers arrived at the school, said Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Division of Criminal Investigation, in an afternoon press conference.

The officers responded to a report of an active shooter at the high school about 7:37 a.m., where students of different grades gathered for breakfast.

The officers found students and school employees fleeing or hiding, along with several people with gunshot wounds, Mortvedt said.

“Officers immediately attempted to locate the source of the threat and quickly found what appeared to be the shooter with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” he said.

He said Butler had a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun. Officers also found a “rudimentary” bomb, which was disabled by state officials and did not explode.

“All evidence thus far suggests that Butler acted alone,” Mortvedt said. Investigators are reviewing social media posts made by Butler about the time of the shootings.

“It’s impossible to understand why anything like this happens,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said at the news conference. “But again, I want you to know that we’ll work tirelessly to get the answers so that we can prevent it from happening again.”

The victims included five students and one school administrator. A sixth-grade Perry Middle School student died, but the five other victims are expected to survive. Mortvedt said most of them are in stable condition and one has critical, non-life-threatening injuries. None of the victims’ names were released at the afternoon news briefing.

“All of our condolences to the victims and their families,” Perry Police Chief Eric Vaughn said, as he choked with emotion. “They need your thoughts and prayers as well as time and space to process and grieve.”

Quick response praised

Reynolds thanked the numerous local, state and federal agencies for responding quickly to the incident. They included the Perry Police Department, Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa State Patrol, state Division of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“In a situation like this, as we all know, every minute counts, and their heroic actions today, we can say saved lives,” Reynolds said. “The response was tremendous, and we’re extremely grateful.”

Law enforcement was alerted to the shooting at 7:37 a.m., before the school day had begun, Dallas County Sheriff Adam Infante said at an earlier news briefing. “Officers first arrived within seven minutes of that activation and located multiple gunshot victims,” Infante said.

“Luckily, there was very few students and faculty in the building, which I think contributed to a good outcome in that sense,” Infante said.

The Polk County Medical Coordination Center said in a release that multiple victims of the shooting were being treated at Iowa Methodist and MercyOne medical centers in Des Moines.

Infante said a reunification center had been set up for students and families and that he thought “all the kids had been reunified already.”

Elected officials, candidates react

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley responded to what he called an “appalling” incident with a post on X, and said he would be prepared to help if federal resources were needed.

“Todays appalling violence at Perry HS is heartbreaking 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, Grassley posted.

U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn, who represents Iowa’s 3rd District, posted on X that he was “beyond angry” about the shooting. “We have a duty to protect our children, families and educators,” he posted.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said in a social media post that he arrived in Perry shortly after the shooting for a scheduled campaign event. He wrote that the event was canceled and converted to an opportunity for prayer and open conversation. “We pray for the victims of the tragic high school shooting in Perry, Iowa. I happened to be there today right after it happened, we canceled our event and converted it to a prayer & open conversation,” he posted.

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis cited his response as Florida governor to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, which occurred before he took office. He said the state has “done over a billion dollars” for school security and that “the things that we’ve done have been very, very effective.”

However, he said he did not expect the federal government to be at the forefront of school safety issues.  “I think it is more of a local and state issue. But we’ve shown how it’s done in Florida,” he said.

DeSantis’ response to the shooting Thursday came during an interview with the Des Moines Register and NBC News.

“As the father of three young kids who are in school… we want — as parents — to have safety in school,” says @RonDeSantis about the tragic shooting at Perry High School.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley also posted on X about the shooting, saying her “heart aches for the victims of Perry, Iowa and the entire community.” “No parent, student, or teacher should have to wake up and face news about a school shooting. My heart aches for the victims of Perry, Iowa and the entire community,”she posted.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst also commented on X: “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. Thank you to law enforcement for the swift response,” she posted.

Gun regulations

Democratic legislative leaders were meeting with reporters in a legislative forum at the State Capitol as the first shooting reports were being released.

“I want to start by just extending condolences to those in Perry, Iowa,” Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said. “I know that we are still waiting for more details on what happened there. But I think I can speak for all the Democrats and actually everybody in the state of Iowa that our hearts go out to the families on whatever has occurred there.”

Neither Jochum nor House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst commented directly on gun policy in Iowa. The Republican legislative majority in Iowa has steadily loosened gun restrictions and regulations over the past few years.

“Prevention of gun violence has always been on our agenda and we will keep a very watchful eye on how things progress in Perry,” Jochum said.

The Democratic leaders spoke at a forum sponsored by the Iowa Capitol Press Association. Republican legislative leaders were invited but did not participate.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich is editor-in-chief of the Iowa Capital Dispatch. She has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.