Perry, Iowa, school district, partners work to support students and staff after shooting

By: - January 5, 2024 7:53 pm

Perry Community School District officials speak with reporters on Jan. 5, 2024 about the district’s work to support students and staff after a student opened fire in the high school. (Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

PERRY, Iowa — The day after violence rocked Perry High School and the community, school district officials and partners discussed their efforts to support those working through grief and trauma.

One student, an 11-year-old boy, died Thursday, and seven other students and staff were injured, including the principal, when a 17-year-old student opened fire at the high school.

“We have tremendous support for the schools, for the students, from our community and a number of places,” Perry Community School District Superintendent Clark Wicks said. “We have resilient people, and we’re going to provide a safe and inviting atmosphere like we have been each and every day, up to this point. And we’re going to continue to work extremely hard to do that.”

Wicks, along with Perry Mayor Dirk Cavanaugh and Heartland Area Education Agency Clinical Social Worker Stacey Warren, spoke at a news conference Friday to share the district’s response to the shooting and next steps.

A 17-year-old student, Dylan Butler, brought a shotgun, a handgun and a makeshift bomb to school before classes started. Police received a report of shots fired at 7:37 a.m. and arrived about seven minutes later, finding multiple victims of gunshot wounds.

Butler was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which was confirmed by the Iowa State Medical Examiner as the cause of death, according to a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Eleven-year-old Ahmir Jolliff was identified as the deceased Perry Middle School student, according to the release, and the cause of death was three gunshot wounds. Four other students and three staff members, including Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger, were wounded as well.

Marburger remains in critical condition after being shot multiple times, and two students are still hospitalized. According to the release, Marburger “acted selflessly,” and was hurt while trying to protect students.

“Mr. Marburger, he was a hero,” Wicks said. “I know that it helped the way that he approached that situation, and it saved some lives.”

The superintendent also named Perry High School Associate Principal Brad Snowgren and other staff members as heroes for protecting students and alerting authorities to the shooting. Students also did very well in remembering the training the school provided in the event of an active shooter situation, he said.

Cavanaugh said the city has received many calls from people wishing to help support those affected by the shooting. Raccoon Valley Bank has set up a fund for those wishing to donate to the district, and those wishing to give something other than money can contact Perry Community School District Executive Assistant Joyce Scott at [email protected].

Students, staff receive support services, counseling

More than 200 students attended grief support services coordinated by Heartland AEA Friday, Warren said, working with local mental health professionals and a crisis advocacy team. Services will continue 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

About 80 school district staff members met Friday morning with critical incident stress management professionals to speak about their experiences and receive counseling.

“Teachers and staff reported that they felt very supported by being able to have the opportunity to have access to that resource,” Warren said.

Warren said parents of students who attend Perry schools should watch for changes in behavior from their kids and check in if one is noticed, as they may need support. Everyone grieves in different ways, she said, and Heartland AEA has short and long-term resources for those who need it.

Classes canceled in Perry

High school students will have no classes all of next week, Wicks said, and elementary and middle school students won’t return to classrooms before Jan. 12 at the earliest. The elementary and middle schools were undamaged, but the high school needs cleaning and repair.

Wicks said the district is working to balance student and staff’s mental health with their need to get back to school, but first the damages must be addressed.

“We want and are committed to having that school look like it did two weeks ago,” Wicks said. “And we want the students to be able to come in here and see that it looks like Perry High School.”

While school is out, Wicks said the district will provide grab-and-go lunches for students every day between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at the elementary school.

Wicks didn’t respond to questions about specific students or incidents, saying they should instead be directed to law enforcement. The district right now is focused on supporting its community in any way it can, he said.

“We realize that everybody handles a traumatic experience at different rates and in different ways, so we want to be very cognizant of that,” Wicks said. “And working with the AEA and Stacy and her team, we’re going to provide … anything we can do to help students transition into school for teaching and learning.”

Police say they’ll crack down on threats

The West Des Moines Police Department warned on Friday that it will hold people “legally accountable” for online threats of violence after some expressed support for Butler and after the department arrested a local teen for “threatening violence at one of our community schools.”

The department “will have no tolerance for these kinds of threats or actions in our community,” it said in a press release.

Lakeeve Arlley Fort, 18, of West Des Moines, was arrested Thursday night for a felony threat of terrorism charge, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Snapchat reported to the FBI that Fort’s account had sent a message that included the text “Should I shoot up the school??” with a thumbs up or down, according to a criminal complaint.

Fort allegedly admitted he created and sent the message to a private Snapchat group a year before the Perry shooting, and then on Thursday he shared it again as a “memory.” The social media app often reminds people of such memories unprompted to enable them to easily share the messages again.

Court records show two people in the Snapchat group were “alarmed and told him to delete it.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter Jared Strong contributed to this report.

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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Brooklyn Draisey
Brooklyn Draisey

Brooklyn Draisey is a Report for America corps member covering higher education. She previously worked for the Quad-City Times and The Gazette covering topics ranging from business to culture.

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