Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger, wounded in Jan. 4 shootings, dies early Sunday

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El director Dan Marburger habla durante la ceremonia de graduación de Perry High School el domingo 28 de mayo de 2023.
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By Noelle Alviz-GranseeAllison UllmannDonnelle EllerStephen Gruber-Miller, and Philip Joens, Des Moines Register

Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger, critically wounded in the Jan. 4 shootings at the high school, died early Sunday, his family said.

His wife, Elizabeth, posted the tragic news on a GoFundMe page for the family.

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Marburger Family Healing, organized by Laura Skeel

“At 8:00 am, Jan (14), Dan lost his battle,” she wrote. “He fought hard and gave us 10 days that we will treasure forever.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, in a news release, said she had ordered flags at all state facilities lowered to half-staff in Marburger’s honor, and encouraged others to do so. She and her husband offered a message of sympathy.

“Our entire state is devastated by the news of Dan Marburger’s death,” Reynolds said. “Kevin and I offer our deepest condolences to his wife and family as we pray for their comfort during this very difficult time.”

The Perry Community School District posted a message on its Facebook page, expressing its condolences to the Marburger family.

“Dan was a tremendous leader in our school district and a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our school community is heartbroken by Dan’s death,” it said. “For nearly three decades, Dan was ingrained in every aspect of our Perry Community School District environment, and we are feeling the immense loss of a devoted and caring colleague.”

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Marburger, 56, who was taken to UnityPoint Health Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines and underwent daylong surgery after the attack, has been widely praised for his heroism in the shootings. Several accounts said that before he was shot, he attempted to distract the shooter, student Dylan Butler, 17, giving other students time to escape the school cafeteria where the shootings began during breakfast.

“Dan courageously put himself in harm’s way to protect his students, and ultimately gave his own life to save them,” Reynolds said. “He will forever be remembered for his selfless and heroic actions. May he rest in peace.” 

A student from Perry Middle School, adjacent to the high school, also died in the attack. The funeral for Ahmir Jolliff was held Thursday in Perry.

Two other school staff members and four students were wounded. Two of the students remained hospitalized as of Friday.

Marburger: ‘I always knew I’d be a teacher’

No funeral arrangements were yet available for Marburger, a native of Sabula, an eastern Iowa town on the Mississippi River. He attended what was then East Central Community High School in Miles and graduated from Central College with a degree in education in 1989. He later earned a master’s in educational administration from Drake University.

He had worked in the Perry school district for nearly 30 years, telling the Perry Chief in 1995, when he was an assistant principal, that “I always knew I’d be a teacher.”

“I had great teachers I wanted to be like,” said Marburger, who taught social studies at East Central High and then middle school computer skills for two years.

He also taught physical education and had been an athletic director and middle school administrator. Marburger said he especially enjoyed teaching history, as well as coaching.

He said he’d been a B-average student who had participated in sports and been class president.

He was a football player at Central College and described himself as an avid golfer who enjoyed sporting events, including college football games.

Daughter’s tribute urges grace toward shooter’s family

Marburger and his wife had five children, including a daughter, Claire, who served as Perry High School’s varsity girls’ basketball coach last school year and still works for the school district. In a poignant Facebook posting late Jan. 4, she described her father as “a gentle giant, an amazing Dad and just amazing person.”

“As I heard of a gunman, I instantly had a feeling my Dad would be a victim as he would put himself in harms way for the benefit of the kids and his staff,” she wrote. “It is absolutely zero surprise to hear he tried to approach and talk Dylan down and distract him long enough for some students to get out of the cafeteria. That’s just Dad.”

More:Perry High School classes of 2014, 2024 work together on memorial after Jan. 4 shootings

In a message that has been echoed throughout the Perry community, she asked the community to “show grace to the Butler family, as we are not our kids mistakes and actions or our parents mistakes and actions.”

Authorities have said Dylan committed suicide after the shootings.

“Remember this is something Dylan’s family has to live with too, as well as losing their child,” Claire Marburger wrote.

In their own statement Jan. 8, Dylan’s parents, Jack and Erin Butler, said they had “no inkling he intended the horrible violence” when they dropped him off at school the morning of the shootings. “We simply do not understand how this could happen and why Dylan chose to do what he did.” 

They added, “We cannot repay the grace we have been shown in public and private. We are helping authorities and will continue to help to provide answers to the question of why our son committed this senseless crime.”

Claire Marburger returned to Facebook on Sunday afternoon, posting a new message about her father.

“If you are lucky enough to know my Dad, you know there are not enough words to say about him,” she wrote. “He passed many lessons and things on to us kids.”

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In the lengthy post, she praised his demanding but understanding handling of his students, his love for his children, their mother and his parents, as well as his grandchildren.

“My Dad was an incredible man, educator, husband, Dad, grandpa. A person I aspire to be and hope to make proud every day,” she wrote. “He will be greatly missed. I love you, Dad. You are the best, forever.”

Motive in shootings remains undisclosed

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which is working with Perry police and Dallas County authorities to investigate the crime, has not publicly identified a motive for the shootings, though it has said it is investigating a report that Dylan, who brought a pump-action shotgun and small-caliber handgun to school that day, had been bullied.

Perry schools were preparing to welcome students back on the morning of the shootings for the first time since the holiday break. They have been closed since the shootings.

Clark Wicks, superintendent of Perry schools, on Sunday announced that a school board meeting scheduled for later that day would be postponed to 3-5 p.m. Monday. He said it will be available to view via Zoom from a link on the district website.

Wicks also said in a districtwide email that planned reopenings of the elementary and middle schools this coming week would be postponed, and that elementary school students would not report to work as planned on Monday.

No date has been announced for resuming classes at the high school.

Wicks said grief support services will be available from 9–11 a.m. and 11 a.m.– 1 p.m. at Perry Elementary School for all school staff members.

“Today is a difficult and heartbreaking day for all of us who know and love the Marburger family,” he said.  

Rick Gates, senior pastor at Crossroads Church, one of several that hosted vigils on the night after the shooting, said he had the difficult task Sunday morning of telling his congregants of Marburger’s death.

“I broke the news to a bunch of people that were just hearing it for the first time, and it was a hard moment,” Gates aid. “I shared it and sat there for a moment, and then we began to pray, and I prayed what was in my heart.”

He said he had known Marburger for about 20 years, and that his children had attended Perry High.

“He lived and breathed for the school and the community and the students,” he said.

Tributes to Marburger pour in from national, state, local leaders

Arrangements for Dan Marburger’s funeral are being handled by Caldwell Parrish Funeral Home in Perry, which said it expects to post the details sometime Tuesday.

Marburger’s death came on the eve of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, and some of the candidates made it part of their message on Sunday.

Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, opened a campaign event in Adel by asking the crowd to “lift up the Perry community in prayer” after the death of Marburger.

“What happened in Perry, whenever you turn on the TV, it doesn’t matter what state it is, it still hurts,” Haley said. “And we still feel it. Our hearts still drop. And today, my heart dropped again when I heard that we lost Dan Marburger. This principal was a hero. He saved lives.”

Haley said Marburger’s actions are a reminder of the good people who step up in tragic circumstances. She asked the crowd to thank the teachers, the law enforcement officers and other officials who responded to the shooting that day.

“First there’s shock and then there’s sadness and then there’s healing,” Haley said. “So as they go through this process, let’s not forget it because it happened one day and went off the TV. Let’s remember that this is going to be a process for them and we need to continue to pray for them.”

Vivek Ramaswamy offered his condolences to Marburger’s family and Perry’s residents on Sunday.

In an earlier podcast, he had said three armed security guards were needed in each school in the country. After a reporter told Ramaswamy about Marburger’s death Sunday, he changed his stance slightly. One armed security guard could deter, but not stop shootings at schools, Ramaswamy said. So he would like to see three armed security guards in most schools and up to five armed security guards in larger schools, he said.

Ramaswamy wants to shut the U.S. Department of Education, which he said would provide funds to cover the cost of hiring armed security guards in schools.

“We apply more security in our airports, in our banks and many of our shopping malls than we do in our own schools, and I think that’s a failure,” Ramaswamy said. “Our most-valuable national asset is our children and the people taking the effort to educate those children. The least we can do as a country.”

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“I am confident that will hopefully, we pray, prevent any tragedy like this again in the future, but it’s unconscionable that we haven’t taken that basic step to prevent it.”

Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas governor and candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, offered a statement.

“America lost a hero today,” Hutchinson said. I know all of Iowa is suffering because Dan Marburger died from his sacrificial effort to protect his students. He worked everyday to improve the lives of his students and on that day, he literally saved the lives of students. This is a day to remember a great man and do what we can to help a community get through their pain and loss.”

Other statements came from:

  • Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart: “Perry High School Principal Dan (Marburger) laid down his life for his students. We will remember him for his courage and sacrifice. We need to make changes so that no teacher or principal ever has to do that again. My thoughts are with Dan Marburger’s family, colleagues, students, and the entire Perry community.”
  • Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand: “I join all Iowans in mourning the loss of Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger. No one should ever have to give their life to save children from a rampage in a school—a sacrifice Principal Marburger ultimately made. Dan Marburger’s courageous actions at Perry High School on the morning of January 4, 2024, saved lives and ensured the safety of many of his students form harm’s way. Thank God for Dan Marburger, and may he rest in peace.” 
  • Laura Skeel, director of learning supports for Perry schools: “Dan Marburger sacrificed his life for the students and staff at Perry High School.  He’s given so much to the community of Perry since 1995 when he became PHS Principal, and this was the ultimate sacrifice.  The Marburger family and the entire Perry community are grieving this profound loss.”

This is a breaking news report and will be updated.

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