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Parents of Iowa teen, who killed sixth grader, wounded 7 others in shooting, say they had ‘no inkling’ of his plan

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FILE - Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Police say there has been a shooting at the city's high school.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The parents of the 17-year-old who killed a sixth grader and wounded seven others in a shooting at his small-town Iowa high school last week said in a statement Monday that they “had no inkling he intended the horrible violence he was about to inflict.”

Dylan Butler’s parents said in the statement that they are cooperating with investigators as they try “to provide answers to the question of why our son committed this senseless crime.”

“As the minutes and hours have passed since the horrors our son Dylan inflicted on the victims, the Perry School and the community, we have been trying to make sense out of the senseless,” Jack and Erin Butler said in the statement. “We are simply devastated and our grief for the deceased, his family, the wounded and their families is immeasurable.”

Dylan Butler took his own life after killing one student and wounding Perry High School’s principal, two other staff members and four other students on the first day of classes after winter break, leaving some with significant injuries. The family of 11-year-old Ahmir Jolliff is planning to hold his funeral Thursday — one week after the shooting happened.

Investigators have said they are reviewing reams of electronic and physical evidence they’ve gathered and are interviewing dozens of witnesses to better understand what happened and why. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which is taking the lead in this case, didn’t release any updates on the shooting Monday.

An FBI spokesperson said the agency didn’t receive any tips or information concerning Dylan Butler through its National Threat Operations Center before the shooting.

Also on Monday, several hundred students and other protesters marched on the state Capitol in Des Moines about 40 miles (64 kilometers) away from Perry to push for tighter gun control laws in the state.

The Butlers said they were grateful for the “grace we have been shown in public and private” since the shooting. There has been an outpouring of support for the family, with some residents offering support on the town Facebook group and volunteers offering to bring them meals.

Scouts in town spent the weekend gathering teddy bears to give to Perry elementary school students as residents eagerly ordered “Perry Stong” T-shirts, car decals and yard signs as they collected money to pay for the medical needs of the shooting victims. At the same time, Dylan’s family is being remembered, too. Even by the slain student’s family.

In an interview with the Associated Press Friday night, the first words Ahmir’s mother, Erica Jolliff, said were mourning the boy who killed her son.

“We send our condolences to the family of Dylan, they’re in our prayers and we’re truly sorry for his loss as well,” she said

Erin Owen, who is the administrator of the town Facebook page and is organizing a fundraiser for the victims, said there has been some pushback in the community to the show of support for the Butler family, but most people accept it.

“I think that there might be some narrow tunnel vision at first. And then as the community kind of chimes in and gives it a different perspective, then it’s more widely received.” She stressed: “They’re suffering loss as well.”

The families of school shooters are often villainized, questioned over signs they might have missed that something was amiss.

In Michigan, the parents of a teenager who killed four students at Oxford High School are facing involuntary manslaughter charges. James and Jennifer Crumbley are accused of making a gun accessible to Ethan Crumbley at home and ignoring his mental health needs.

And in the 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre, Nancy Lanza, who legally purchased guns found at the scene, is usually excluded from the count of the slain. Her son, Adam Lanza, killed her before fatally shooting 20 first-graders and six educators.

One issue is the growing movement to deny mass killers notoriety after their deaths, limiting the use of their names and images, so posthumous fame won’t be a motivating factor for future killings.

Owen thinks it is more pragmatic than some broader statement on forgiveness. Perry has about 8,000 residents, making it small enough that most people were touched somehow, and she said the town has seen other tragic deaths of children in recent years, preparing the community to respond to this tragedy.

Even those not directly affected, either knew someone with a child at the school or were close to Dylan’s family. His father is director of the city’s airport after serving as its public works director for years, where he won praise helping clean up Perry after a devastating wind storm in 2020. His mother has also owned a small business and served on a city development board.

“Everybody in town knows them and they’re the sweetest people and everybody’s hurting so everybody is at least trying to come together on a common ground,” said Audi Sorber, who signed up to bring a meal next Monday.

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