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Students remember horror of Iowa school shooting that killed sixth grader and injured five others

(CNN) — As students at Perry High School in Iowa were eating breakfast and wrapping up band practice in the cafeteria Thursday morning, one of their classmates entered the building with two guns and started shooting, killing a sixth-grader. Injuring others, causing children and teachers to run away. For safety reasons; this is all before the first class of the new semester begins.

Investigators are still looking for a motive for the 17-year-old attacker. A law enforcement official told CNN he was dead. Mitch Mortvedt, deputy chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations Division, said student Dylan Butler was found at the school near Des Moines with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Four students were injured, Motwit said. Principal Dan Malberg was also injured, according to officials from another school district.

At first, some people mistook the gunshots for disturbing noises: balloons bursting and bags falling, two witnesses said. But panic and fear quickly spread as teachers and students became aware of the threat.

“The whole cafeteria was silent,” Angie Orellana, a high school student who was present at the time of the shooting, told CNN. “Then more shootings continued and everything became chaos. I saw the principal and all my friends start running, and then I got out of there.”

Student Rachael Kares told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday that she was sitting in the last few minutes of jazz band practice when she heard something in the hallway Four gunshots rang out. He said a burning smell began to fill the air and then another gunshot was heard.

“Our band teacher looked at us and just said, ‘Run!’ None of us hesitated. “We all stood up and ran,” Carres said.

Carres said she and her friends ran away and tried to “leave the school.” “We just keep going.”

The shooting occurred before classes began at the high school, which shares a campus with Perry High School. “It is our understanding that a breakfast program was taking place at the time, so there may have been different grade levels of students in the school at the time,” Motwit said Thursday.

More than 150 federal, state and local agents were the first to arrive and found students and staff sheltering in place or fleeing the building, Mortvedt said.

A man and his children leave the McCray Community Building after a gathering Thursday following the shooting at Perry High School near Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

He said agents found the injured attacker inside, as well as a crude explosive device, which authorities had secured. He said the teen was armed with a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun.

The attack was one of at least five mass shootings in the United States in 2024 – just five days into the year – injuring at least four victims, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This is also the second shooting on U.S. school property this year, according to a CNN analysis, after more than 80 such attacks occurred across the country in the previous year.

Officials said authorities were reviewing social media posts made by the shooter at the time of the attack as part of the Iowa investigation, but they did not elaborate on the nature of those posts.

According to multiple media outlets, including the Associated Press, Butler posted a photo on TikTok shortly before the shooting in which he was holding a blue duffel bag in a school bathroom with the caption: “Now we wait”.

The post was also accompanied by the song “Stray Bullet” by the German band KMFDM, the Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. The group’s lyrics were also cited by the armed students who carried out the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, CNN reported.

Law enforcement officials are analyzing Butler’s post and others on TikTok and Reddit and interviewing the shooter’s friends, the Associated Press reported, citing the official.

All Perry District schools will be closed Friday and counseling services will be available as students and community members cope with the tragedy.

“It didn’t look real,” Carres said. “It’s like one of those things you see on TV and you think it will never reach my community, but it does. It’s really true.”

Shocked community seeks healing

Community members gathered for a candlelight vigil Thursday night. (Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images).

Perry resident Jessica Conrad told CNN that the slain sixth-grader, whose identity has not been released, was “the sweetest kid that you wanted your kids to be friends with.”

In a statement, the Easton Valley Community School District in eastern Iowa, where Malberg graduated, identified the principal as one of those injured. He said the district learned of his injuries through “family connections in our district.” Malberg has worked at Perry schools for at least 25 years, according to the Perry Community School District Board of Trustees.

“This senseless tragedy has shaken our entire state to its core,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday. “I want you to know that we will work tirelessly to find answers so we can prevent this.” Happen again.”

Mourners gathered at a local park Thursday night for a vigil, holding candles and speakers sharing messages of strength, compassion and unity.

“Even though we’re in a small town, the whole world embraced us tonight,” said Perry College alumna Andrea Niemeyer, noting that she received condolences from as far away as Washington state.

“We will get through this because we have each other,” he added.

Some expressed shock and disbelief, including one mother who said her husband tried to send the children to school early but was refused.

“Throughout the morning, as the minutes went by, I found myself breathless and realizing how lucky I was,” Mindy Farmer said.

Later that day, the question was: “What now?” Farmer said it started to stress him out. “I thought you might start to feel a little helpless.”

Several attendees at the vigil offered prayers, including local pastor Kathy Benton, who prayed for the students “who are going to be dealing with memories, sounds, everything.”

“We pray that their hearts are healed,” he said. “We pray for his emotional healing.”

——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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