The veteran Iowa principal who risked his life to save students during a shooting earlier this month was remembered Saturday not only for his heroic actions that day but for the unconditional love and compassion he showed his family and students during his years at Perry High School.
Mourners filled Hope Lutheran Church in West Des Moines, just over 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from where Dan Marburger had worked since 1995 and been director since 1997. He died Jan. 14 in the hospital, ten days after the shooting.
Marburger, 56, was seriously injured during the Jan. 4 attack, which began in the cafeteria of the joint middle and high school as students gathered for breakfast before class. An 11-year-old sixth-grade boy was killed in the shooting and six other people were injured. The 17-year-old student who opened fire also died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Investigators said after the shooting that Marburger “acted selflessly and put himself in harm’s way in an apparent effort to protect his students.” Perry Superintendent Clark Wicks said Marburger was a “hero” who intervened with the teenage gunman so the students could escape.
But his family said at the funeral that they will remember most of all the way Marburger loved them.
Marburger’s daughter, Claire Marburger, said Dan’s five children “never had to wonder if Dad cared about us or if he was thinking about us.” She said that he would always show his love through his presence at each of her events and his compassion.
And even when he couldn’t be there every day after his children went to college, Marburger often sold them a few dollars so they could eat outside the cafeteria or fill up their gas tank. But she tried to be there, too: She regularly drove 3.5 hours each way on a school night to watch Claire Marburger play college basketball.
“If I had a genie with a wish, it wouldn’t be a new car, a house or an amount of money. It wouldn’t even have to be to have Dad back because I know that’s a big wish,” Claire Marburger said as she choked up at the funeral. “My wish would be to get one of Dad’s hugs, just a couple of seconds to hold him.” “And he hugged me to kiss me on the top of my head and tell me he was proud of me.”
Elizabeth Marburger said she was able to experience Dan’s unconditional love for 43 years since they first fell in love in eighth grade, but it still wasn’t enough.
“He modeled love and grace every day. My wish for all of you is to have someone – a parent, a partner, a friend, a brother – who will love you unconditionally like Dan did for me,” said Elizabeth Marburger. “And my other challenge to you is to see the good that is in the world. What we have experienced the last two weeks has been rotten. But the good is out there and every day we have to look for it.”
That has been evident in the way the Perry community came together after the shooting to support everyone who was suffering and raise money to help all the victims. Residents even arranged to prepare meals for the gunman’s family as they mourn the loss of a son in a violent act his parents said they never saw coming.
Authorities have said the suspect, identified as Dylan Butler, was carrying a pump-action shotgun and a small-caliber handgun when he emerged from the bathroom where he posted a sinister photo on TikTok that morning and began shooting. He also carried with him some type of improvised explosive device that had to be disarmed.
The town of about 8,000 people had to say goodbye to Ahmir Jolliff several days before Marburger died in the hospital. But they have been able to celebrate the fact that everyone else injured in the shooting is now recovering at home.
However, life is far from normal in Perry, as children are still out of school. The district has announced plans to gradually bring students back starting with elementary school on Wednesday and high school on Thursday. High school students will not return to school until the middle of next week.
The school district plans to further restrict access to its buildings and have uniformed police there when they reopen, but will not take larger steps that some have called for, such as installing metal detectors or requiring students to carry clear plastic bags. Many parents, especially the families of injured students, remain uneasy about sending their children back.
The investigation into what led Butler to bring weapons to his school and open fire continues with investigators reviewing all of his social media posts and reviewing evidence from the shooting and hours of witness testimony.