Another school shooting, this time in the shadow of a caucus

Another school shooting, this time in the shadow of a caucus

A sixth-grade student was killed and five other people were injured during a shooting Thursday at a rural Iowa school, authorities said, in an attack that looked set to consume part of the state’s looming presidential nominating contest.

The shooting at the Perry Middle School & High School campus — which was slated to serve as a gathering site for the first-in-the-nation Jan. 15 Republican caucuses — pushed GOP presidential candidates into the grim but familiar position of addressing a mass shooting that targeted schoolchildren.

Mitch Mortvedt, an assistant director with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, identified the suspected shooter as a 17-year-old student at the high school and said he was found at the scene with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police also disabled a rudimentary explosive device at the scene, Mortvedt said.

Four of the surviving victims are students, he said, and one is a school administrator. Mortvedt said the gunman — who was armed with a pump-action shotgun and small-caliber handgun — appeared to have acted alone. One Republican presidential candidate predicted the shooting would put gun violence and school safety into the center of the campaign, even as other GOP hopefuls suggested the federal government should play no role in responding to local shootings and rejected President Joe Biden’s calls for changes to the nation’s gun laws. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds demurred when asked at a press conference how GOP candidates should respond.

“I’ll let them decide how they’re going to talk about it,” said Reynolds, who has endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We’re going to focus on the investigation, and we’re going to focus on making sure that we provide the resources that the community, the teachers, the staff, those that are involved, the families … that they need during this difficult time,” she said. “I’ll let the candidates decide what they’re going to focus on.”

Authorities said there was “no further danger to the public” at a press conference on Thursday morning. The Associated Press, citing an unnamed law enforcement official, reported that the suspect had died from a self-inflicted wound.

Police described a chaotic scene that consumed the campus shortly after 7:30 a.m. local time on the first day back in school for students following the holiday break.

Responding officers witnessed students and faculty running from the school building or sheltering in place as they entered campus, and soon located multiple victims with gunshot wounds inside.

“Officers immediately attempted to locate the source of the threat and quickly found what appeared to be the shooter with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” said Mortvedt, who did not answer follow-up questions about whether the gunman was dead. An ensuing search of the school discovered the crude explosive device.

One victim was in critical condition with what appeared to be non-life threatening injuries, said Mortvedt, who described the four other surviving victims as being in “stable” condition.

The gunman’s motive was still under investigation. Authorities said he had made a number of social media posts “in and around the time of the shooting.”

Perry, Iowa, a rural Des Moines exurb of about 8,000 people, is located in the state’s center. The high school, housed at the same address as the town’s middle school, is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District.

Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told POLITICO that “anytime there is a shooting in a school our hearts ache” and predicted “this tragedy will dominate the issues we discuss leading up to the caucus.”

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s planned “commit to caucus” event Thursday morning with voters in Perry ended up becoming a more informal conversation in which Ramaswamy and attendees prayed and discussed the shooting and other issues.

Ramaswamy has blamed mass shootings on a “mental health epidemic” and campaigned at gun ranges as part of his bid for president. At the event Thursday, he blasted “the false hubris” associated with “knee-jerk” calls for gun control legislation in the wake of mass shootings.

“The temptation is just pass some law, paper it over and say we did something in response to this,” Ramaswamy said. “Sweeping under this real ailment at the heart and soul of our nation and our culture that has spread to the entire next generation and to the unit of the family, the loss of purpose … that’s a false hubris. That’s a belief almost that we are God.”

Republican candidates largely refrained from talking about policy solutions as they offered condolences on social media.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley posted on X, formerly Twitter, that “[no] parent, student, or teacher should have to wake up and face news about a school shooting” and said her “heart aches for the victims” and the community.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register and NBC News on Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said “we obviously have a responsibility to create safe environments,” but argued that the federal government should not be addressing school shootings. DeSantis, who has staked his hopes on a strong performance in Iowa’s first-in-the nation caucus, has sought to loosen his state’s laws on gun ownership and pledged to veto gun control legislation if elected president.

“The federal government is probably not going to be leading that effort, I think it is more of a local and state issue, but we’ve shown how it’s done in Florida,” DeSantis continued.

Other Republican presidential hopefuls have voiced similar concerns in the past with gun control legislation. They have also backed efforts to repeal gun safety laws and pledged support for gun rights if elected president.

Former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, did not release a statement or post on social media about the shootings in the hours that followed, though he posted on Truth Social about other subjects. The campaign did not return requests for comment. In the past, Trump has called for hardening school security and promised to enact federal tax credits to reimburse teachers for the cost of firearms.

Republican candidates, including Haley and Hutchinson, have also backed calls for armed guards in schools.

At the White House, meanwhile, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was tracking the situation and reiterated the administration’s support for added gun control measures such as enacting universal background checks for firearm purchases and banning military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“It’s only the fourth day in the new year and we are already faced with yet another horrific school shooting. And the question that we ask is, when will enough be enough?” Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “Our students and teachers deserve to know that their schools are safe spaces, and to focus on learning, not duck-and-cover drills.”

Becky Pringle, the head of the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union, posted on X on Thursday that “schools like Perry High should be the safest place in a community. Instead, once again, gun violence has turned a school into a place of fear and trauma.”

“I demand that our lawmakers confront this intolerable epidemic of gun violence. Our students’ lives depend on it,” she said.

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