Tragedy Strikes Perry High School on Students' First Day Back

Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa, on Thursday. Andrew Harnik/AP

Police in Perry, Iowa, responded to a shooting at the city's high school early on the first day back after winter break, leaving two victims hospitalized. The incident unfolded before classes began, minimizing the number of students and staff present. The alleged shooter, who later died from a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound, triggered a massive emergency response.

The shooting occurred amidst the Iowa caucuses, drawing attention to the tragic event. Law enforcement received an active shooter report at 7:37 a.m., swiftly arriving at the scene within seven minutes. The exact number and condition of the injured were unclear during the initial press conference. Two gunshot victims were transported to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.

Witnesses, including 15-year-old Zander Shelley and 18-year-old senior Rachael Kares, described harrowing experiences. Shelley narrowly escaped, sustaining grazes while hiding in a classroom. Kares, concluding jazz band practice, heard gunshots and, prompted by her teacher, fled the building with fellow students.

FBI agents joined the investigation led by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. The community faced uncertainty, with conflicting reports and concerned parents desperate for information. Perry's mayor, Dirk Cavanaugh, emphasized the absence of confirmed details, urging caution about speculative figures.

The Perry Community School District, housing 1,785 students, became the focal point of the tragedy. The town, with a population of about 8,000, boasts greater diversity than the Iowa average, with 31% of residents being Hispanic. The shooting coincided with Republican presidential candidates campaigning nearby, underscoring the broader impact on the community.

Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt of the Division of Criminal Investigation speaks during a press conference in Perry, Iowa, on Thursday.

Parents like Erica Jolliff anxiously sought reassurance about the safety of their children. Jolliff's daughter reported being rushed from the school grounds, while her son remained unaccounted for, heightening the emotional turmoil. Jasmine Augustine, witnessing the aftermath, described a chaotic scene with a rapid influx of law enforcement.

The gravity of the situation prompted evacuations, with students and staff directed to leave the premises urgently. Emergency services converged on the school, amplifying the tense atmosphere. Local businesses and convenience stores became points of refuge for those seeking safety.

In the aftermath, unanswered phone calls to school officials deepened the sense of confusion and frustration among concerned parents. Superintendent Clark Wicks, as well as the president and vice president of the Perry School Board, remained unresponsive at the time.

As the community grapples with the aftermath of this tragic incident, the focus shifts to supporting the victims, their families, and the broader school community. The devastating events at Perry High School serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges surrounding school safety and the profound impact of such incidents on tight-knit communities.

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