School Climate & Safety

6th Grader Killed and 5 Others Injured in Iowa School Shooting

By Caitlynn Peetz & Mark Lieberman — January 04, 2024 | Updated: January 04, 2024 4 min read
Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., on Jan. 4, 2024. Police say there has been a shooting at the city's high school.
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Updated: This article was updated Thursday afternoon with new details from an afternoon law enforcement press conference on the shooter and victims.

A 6th-grade student was killed and five other people were injured in one of the first school shootings of 2024, inside an Iowa high school on the morning of Jan. 4.

The shooting happened at Perry High School, about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines, on the first day back at school following winter break. It happened before classes had begun for the day, but during a school breakfast program when students from multiple grade levels were in the building, Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s division of criminal investigation, said during an afternoon press conference.

Four other students and one school administrator were injured and hospitalized in the shooting.

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One of the five injured victims was in critical condition with non-life-threatening injuries as of mid-afternoon Thursday, Mortvedt said. The rest were in stable condition, he said.

Law enforcement officials declined to name the administrator during Thursday’s press conference. However, in an interview with the Washington Post, Linda Andorf, president of the local school board, identified the administrator as Dan Marburger, principal of Perry High School.

Police in Dallas County, Iowa, responded to the school at 7:37 a.m., Mortvedt said. At the school, they found students and faculty “either sheltering in place or running from the school,” he said.

They found the 17-year-old shooter with a self-inflicted gun wound. The student had a pump action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun. Law enforcement officers also found and neutralized a “rudimentary” explosive device on the scene.

Mortvedt said police are investigating “a number of social media posts in and around the time of the shooting” from the shooter himself. Based on the evidence available so far, he said the shooter acted alone and that the shooting was not racially motivated.

Mortvedt did not elaborate about the shooter’s social media posts, but the Des Moines Register reported that the teen posted to TikTok shortly before the shooting. The post included a selfie of the shooter in a bathroom stall with a duffle bag by his feet. The caption read, “Now we wait.”

The post included the song “Stray Bullet” by the band KMFDM, the same song used on the personal website of one of the shooters at Columbine High School in 1999.

The Perry High School shooter’s account has been shut down, the outlet reported.

Dallas County (Iowa) Sheriff Adam Infante speaks outside Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., on Jan. 4, 2024, after a shooting at the city's high school.

The Perry school district has three schools and serves about 1,785 students, according to its website.

Perry High School student Ava Augustus told NBC News that she was hiding in a small room with other students and a counselor as the shooting occurred.

She described seeing glass and blood on the floor as she exited the building.

“I get to my car and they’re taking a girl out of the auditorium who had been shot in her leg,” Augustus said.

Holly Killmer, a teacher at Perry Middle School, told the Des Moines Register it was “more than I can handle” watching parents and students cry and hug as they were reunited after the shooting.

“How do you wrap your mind around sending them back into that environment?” Killmer said. “How do they do that? It’s just so traumatic.”

In a post on the Perry High School Facebook page, district officials wrote that schools would be closed on Friday and that counseling services would be available at the community library.

How to process the tragedy with students

The Perry High School shooting had more total victims than any school shooting since three children and three adults died last March at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn.

In 2023, there were 37 shootings on school property that injured at least one person, according to Education Week’s shooting tracker for that year. That was the second-highest annual total since EdWeek began tracking school shooting incidents in 2018.

Since 2018, EdWeek has counted 183 school shooting incidents to include in its tracker. The EdWeek tracker counts incidents in which at least one person other than the individual firing the weapon is injured by gunfire on school property when school is in session or during a school-sponsored event.

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Nationwide, 20 people died and 42 others were injured in 2023 in instances of gun violence in and around schools.

News of school shootings can be unsettling for students and educators, whether they were present for the event or not, according to experts.

Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., on Jan. 4, 2024. Police say there has been a shooting at the city's high school.

Professional organizations, including the American School Counselor Association, Mayo Clinic, and National Association of School Psychologists, recommend that adults reiterate to children that schools are safe, and review safety procedures so students understand what measures are in place to keep them safe.

School and district leaders can also remind students how to report potential problems or behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, and ensure staff members are observant of changes in individual students’ behavior following high-profile shooting events that could indicate they’re struggling with feelings of distress or anxiety.

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People gather for a vigil honoring the victims of a shooting several days earlier at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Monterey Park, Calif. A gunman killed multiple people late Saturday amid Lunar New Year's celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community.
Two days after a mass shooting that killed 11 people, people gather for a vigil outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. In the aftermath of shootings and other community violence, educators are called on to help students process their emotions and help them feel safe.
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