One student has died and four others, as well as an administrator, have been injured in Perry, Iowa early Thursday, in what appears to be the year’s first mass school shooting.
The attack, which unfolded at Perry High School just after 7:30 a.m. local time, led to the death of an unnamed sixth-grader, according to Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Iowa Department of Public Safety. It was not immediately clear why that victim, a student at Perry Middle School, was at the high school; NBC News reported that the shooting unfolded during a breakfast program, before classes began, and that students of different ages may have been on campus.
The five injured people are being treated at local hospitals, Mortvedt told reporters Thursday afternoon. Their conditions weren’t immediately clear Thursday night.
The attacker, a 17-year-old student at the high school, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Mortvedt said, adding that authorities believe the shooter acted alone, employing a pump-action shotgun and small-caliber handgun. Authorities who swarmed the school following reports of gunshots also found an improvised explosive device on campus, which officials from the State Fire Marshal and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms “rendered…safe,” Mortvedt said.
The shooting came on the first school day of 2024 in Perry, some 40 miles northwest of Des Moines.
Perry High School senior Ava Augustus told the Associated Press she barricaded herself in a school office with others when she heard gunshots ring out.
“And then we hear ‘He’s down. You can go out,’” she told AP 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.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how the shooter obtained the weapons used to carry out the violence, and the Iowa Department of Public Safety didn’t immediately respond to questions. Iowa law generally prohibits people under 21 from selling or obtaining handguns—though they can purchase and use them under their parents’ or guardians’ supervision, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
But as Moms Demand Action Founder and gun control activist Shannon Watts pointed out in a post on X, Iowa has few restrictions on gun ownership overall. The state doesn’t require background checks for handgun purchases, regulate carrying guns in public, or bar people deemed a danger to themselves or others from possessing guns, according to gun safety advocacy organization Everytown.
Iowa politicians quickly condemned the violence.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement on X: “Our hearts are broken by this senseless tragedy.” In a subsequent post, Reynolds wrote that she had ordered all flags flown at half-staff and that “this senseless tragedy has shaken our entire state to its core.”
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley called the “appalling violence…heartbreaking” in a post on X, and his GOP colleague Sen. Joni Ernst, who appears to be in Egypt, said her staff was in touch with local officials.
The shooting also came just under two weeks before the state’s GOP caucus; candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy held a campaign event about a mile from the school this morning, where he and attendees prayed for victims of the shooting. In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, fellow GOP candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said shootings like the one in Perry are “more of a local and state issue,” and said he wouldn’t back any federal policy changes to prevent mass shootings.
Perry High School will be closed Friday, according to a Facebook post from the school, and the investigation into the shooting is ongoing, Mortvedt said.