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Police say 17-year-old killed a sixth grader and wounded five in Iowa school shooting

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press
Published: January 4, 2024, 1:12pm
6 Photos
Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.
Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Police say there has been a shooting at the city's high school.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Photo Gallery

PERRY, Iowa (AP) — Police said a sixth-grader was killed and five other people were wounded by a 17-year-old suspect in the shooting Thursday at a small-town Iowa high school.

The suspect died of what investigators believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and at least one of the victims is a school administrator, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.

Perry has about 8,000 residents and is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Des Moines, on the edge of the state capital’s metropolitan area. It is home to a large pork-processing plant, and low-slung, single story homes spread among trees now shorn of their leaves by winter. The high school and middle school are connected, sitting on the east edge of town.

High school senior Ava Augustus said she was in a counselor’s office, waiting for hers to arrive, when she heard three shots. She and other people barricaded the door, preparing to throw things if necessary, with a window being too small for an escape.

“And then we hear ‘He’s down. You can go out,’” Augustus said through tears. ”And I run and you can just see glass everywhere, blood on the floor. I get to my car and they’re taking a girl out of the auditorium who had been shot in her leg.”

Three gunshot victims were taken by ambulance to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, a spokesperson for its health system said. Some other patients were transported to a second hospital in Des Moines, a spokesperson for MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center confirmed, declining to comment on the number of patients or their statuses.

In Washington, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting. FBI agents from the Omaha-Des Moines office are assisting with the investigation led by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

The shooting occurred in the backdrop of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy had a campaign event scheduled in Perry at 9 a.m. about 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the high school but canceled it to have a prayer and intimate discussion with area residents.

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Mass shootings across the U.S. have long brought calls for stricter gun laws from gun safety advocates, and Thursday’s did within hours. But that idea has been a non-starter for many Republicans, particularly in rural, GOP-leaning states like Iowa.

As of July 2021, Iowa does not require a permit to purchase a handgun or carry a firearm in public, though it mandates a background check for a person buying a handgun without a permit.

Ramaswamy said the shooting is a sign of a “psychological sickness” in the country. In Des Moines, GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that gun violence “is more of a local and state issue” in an interview with the Des Moines Register and NBC News.

The high school in Perry is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District. The town is more diverse than Iowa as a whole, with census figures showing that 31% of the residents are Hispanic, compared to less than 7% for the state. Those figures also show that nearly 19% of the town’s residents were born outside the U.S.

An active shooter was reported at 7:37 a.m. Thursday and officers arrived seven minutes later, Dallas County Adam Infante said. Emergency vehicles surrounded the middle and high school.

Zander Shelley, 15, was in a hallway when he heard gunshots and dashed into a classroom, according to his father, Kevin Shelley. Zander was grazed twice and hid in the classroom before texting his father at 7:36 a.m.

Kevin Shelley, who drives a garbage truck, told his boss he had to run. “It was the most scared I’ve been in my entire life,” he said.

Rachael Kares, an 18-year-old senior, was wrapping up jazz band practice when she and her bandmates heard what she described as four gunshots, spaced apart.

“We all just jumped,” Kares said. “My band teacher looked at us and yelled, ‘Run!’ So we ran.”

Kares and many others from the school ran out past the football field, as she heard people yelling, “Get out! Get out!” She said she heard additional shots as she ran, but didn’t know how many. She was more concerned about getting home to her 3-year-old son.

“At that moment I didn’t care about anything except getting out because I had to get home with my son,” she said.

Erica Jolliff said that her daughter, a ninth grader, reported getting rushed from the school grounds at 7:45 am. Distraught, Jolliff was still looking for her son Amir, a sixth grader, one hour later.

“I just want to know that he’s safe and OK,” Jolliff said. “They won’t tell me nothing.”

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