Police in Perry, Iowa, say multiple people were shot at the city’s high school Thursday, early on students’ first day back in classes after their annual winter break.
Two gunshot victims were taken by ambulance to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in the state capital of Des Moines, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Perry, a community of about 8,000 people. Dallas County Sheriff Adam Infante said the shooting occurred before school was set to start, so there were few students and faculty in Perry High School.
The suspect in the shooting has died of what investigators believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, 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.
The shooting occurred in the backdrop of the Iowa caucuses and not far from where Republican presidential candidates were campaigning.
An active shooter was reported at 7:37 a.m. Thursday morning and officers arrived seven minutes later, Infante said. He added during a news conference that officers located multiple people with injuries, but couldn’t confirm how many there were or their conditions. A spokeperson for UnityPoint Health, which operates the Des Moines hospital, confirmed the two gunshot victims arriving there.
An enormous number of emergency vehicles surrounded the building that houses both the town’s middle school and high school.
Zander Shelley, 15, was in a hallway waiting for the school day to start 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.
FBI agents from the Omaha-Des Moines office were on scene to help with the investigation led by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
“There are a bunch of speculative numbers floating around,” said Dirk Cavanaugh, Perry’s mayor. “We have no confirmed numbers of who was involved yet.”
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.”
Jasmine Augustine, 18, was at the high school shortly after everything happened Thursday morning. She said she was dropping off a friend at the high school and his brother, who goes to the town’s elementary school about a mile (1.61 kilometers) away.
“I was at Casey’s convenience store and saw one car speed by. I thought it was just someone getting pulled over,” she said.
Augustine said that when she pulled in at the high school, someone told her there was an active shooter “and then we hurried up and left.”
“After that, there’s just tons and tons and tons of cops who came,” said Augustine, whose sister attends the high school but wasn’t near what happened. Jasmine and her dad picked up her sister from the armory afterward.
The high school is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District. The town of Perry 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.
The shooting occurred in the backdrop of the Iowa caucuses and not far from where Republican candidates were campaigning.
Phone messages left with the Perry School Board’s president and vice president, and an email message left with Superintendent Clark Wicks, were not immediately returned.