A teacher at Perry High School in Iowa shared her thoughts and fears after a deadly shooting that took place at her school on Thursday, January 4, 2024. The shooting claimed the lives of a sixth grader and the gunman, a 17-year-old student, and injured four other students and a school administrator.
A day of horror and grief
The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was in her classroom preparing for the first day of classes after the winter break when she heard gunshots and screams. She said she quickly locked the door and turned off the lights, and told her students to hide under their desks.
“I was terrified. I didn’t know what was happening, who was shooting, or why. I just knew I had to protect my students,” she said.
She said she heard more gunshots and explosions, and then silence. She said she stayed in her classroom until the police arrived and escorted them to a nearby park, where they were reunited with their families.
“It was a nightmare. I saw some of my colleagues and students covered in blood. I saw some of them crying and hugging each other. I saw some of them in shock and disbelief. I felt helpless and hopeless,” she said.
She said she later learned that the shooter was Dylan Butler, a senior at Perry High School, who had been bullied since elementary school. She said she also learned that he had killed a sixth grader, whose name has not been released, and wounded four other students and the school principal, Dan Marburger.
She said she did not know Butler personally, but she had seen him around the school. She said she was saddened and angry that he had taken his own life and the life of an innocent child, and that he had caused so much pain and trauma to the school community.
“I don’t understand why he did it. I don’t understand why he had access to guns and explosives. I don’t understand why he felt so alone and desperate. I don’t understand why he didn’t get the help he needed,” she said.
A question of safety and security
The teacher said she has been teaching at Perry High School for five years, and that she loves her job and her students. She said she has always felt safe and supported at the school, and that she has never experienced or witnessed any violence or threats.
She said she believes that the school has done its best to prevent and address bullying, and to provide mental health and counseling services to the students. She said she also believes that the school has followed the safety protocols and procedures in case of an emergency.
However, she said she is now questioning the effectiveness and adequacy of those measures, and whether they can prevent another tragedy from happening.
“I don’t know if we can ever be fully prepared for something like this. I don’t know if we can ever stop someone who is determined to hurt themselves and others. I don’t know if we can ever guarantee the safety and security of our students and staff,” she said.
She said she is also wondering about her own role and responsibility as a teacher, and whether she can make a difference in the lives of her students.
“I love my students. I care about them. I want them to succeed and be happy. But I don’t know if I can reach them all. I don’t know if I can help them with their problems. I don’t know if I can protect them from harm,” she said.
She said she has one question that haunts her every day: “If the shooter comes to my door, will I move fast enough to get between the gun and the children in my care?”
A hope for healing and recovery
The teacher said she is still in shock and grief over the shooting, and that she is struggling to cope with the aftermath. She said she has been receiving support and counseling from her family, friends, colleagues, and the school district.
She said she is also grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from the local and national community, and from other schools and organizations that have experienced similar tragedies.
She said she hopes that the school and the city of Perry can heal and recover from the shooting, and that they can find ways to prevent and reduce gun violence and bullying, and to promote mental health and well-being.
She said she also hopes that the students and staff can return to the school and resume their normal activities, and that they can feel safe and happy again.
“I don’t know when or how we will get back to normal. I don’t know if we will ever be the same. But I know that we have to try. We have to stick together. We have to support each other. We have to move forward,” she said.
She said she plans to go back to the school and continue teaching, and that she hopes to see her students again soon.
“I miss them. I worry about them. I want to hug them and tell them that everything will be OK. I want to teach them and learn from them. I want to see them grow and thrive. I want to be their teacher,” she said.