Parents, 6-year-old girl fatally shot in tent at Iowa park; couple used to live in Lawrence
photo by: Nikos Frazier/Quad City Times via AP
A Cedar Falls, Iowa, couple, formerly of Lawrence, and their 6-year-old daughter were fatally shot while camping at an Iowa state park in an apparently random attack by a man from Nebraska, who later turned the gun on himself, authorities said.
The couple leave behind a 9-year-old son, who was also on the camping trip, according to a family member.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety identified the victims as Tyler Schmidt, 42; his 42-year-old wife, Sarah Schmidt; and their 6-year-old daughter, Lula Schmidt. Their bodies were found in their tent early Friday at the campground, about 180 miles east of Des Moines.
Authorities said the suspected gunman, 23-year-old Anthony Sherwin, was found dead in a wooded area of the park with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
photo by: Iowa Department of Public Safety via AP
Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety’s division of criminal investigation, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the motive for the attack was still unknown.
“We don’t know what led up to this, what precipitated it,” he said, adding that so far, “the investigation has not revealed any early interaction between the Schmidt family and him.”
Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s brother, said the family had no connection to Sherwin and he believed it was a “completely random act.”
Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green, who said he is a neighbor of the Schmidts, posted on Facebook on Friday that the couple’s 9-year-old son, Arlo, “survived the attack, and is safe.” The post did not say whether Arlo was in the tent or even at the campsite when the shootings happened, and the mayor told the AP he didn’t have those details.
Morehouse confirmed Arlo was on the family’s camping trip, but said he did not know exactly where the boy was at the time of the shooting or know specifics about how it unfolded.
“He is with family and he is OK, but I have not had any interaction with him,” Morehouse said Saturday. “As far as I know, he was uninjured physically.”
By Saturday evening, more than $75,000 had flowed into a GoFundMe page created for Arlo. The page, organized by a cousin, Beth Shapiro, said: “Arlo is a strong boy, surrounded by family and friends who are supporting him as best we can.” The page says the fund will help Arlo now, and help fund his future education.
Sarah Schmidt worked at the Cedar Falls Public Library, which was closed Saturday after news of her death. She is an alumna of the University of Kansas, the Journal-World learned.
photo by: Journal-World
The killings prompted the evacuation of the park and campground, including a children’s summer camp. After the evacuations, Sherwin was the only person unaccounted for, Mortvedt said.
Felicia Coe, 35, of Des Moines, was at the campground Friday morning with her boyfriend and his two sons, ages 11 and 16. She said the 16-year-old went out early to go running, and she was talking with someone at the park at about 6:30 a.m. when two park rangers dressed in helmets, vests and carrying what looked like automatic rifles told them to leave the campground.
More law enforcement and an ambulance showed up as Coe went to find her boyfriend’s teenage son.
At the time, Coe did not know what happened. But she recalls seeing a little boy standing near the paramedics.
“He was in his pajamas. I distinctly remember he had one blue tennis shoe,” she said. She later saw a picture of the Schmidt family online and said she recognized the boy she saw as Arlo.
“He’s got this really cute, floppy-curly, moppy, strawberry-blond hair that’s really distinguishable,” Coe said. “He was in these super cute little pajamas, like a cotton T-shirt and shorts that matched. … He was just standing there. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t distraught. But he also wasn’t being comforted. He was just standing there by himself.”
She said the campers got little information about what happened and she began piecing it together on the drive home.
“It’s hard to be so grateful that it wasn’t your family, when you know that another family, is just being ripped apart — multiple families,” she said.
Mortvedt said that during the course of the investigation, authorities learned Sherwin was armed and “that of course heightened our awareness.” Iowa allows people with permits to carry firearms virtually anywhere in the state. Officials did not say if Sherwin had a permit and provided no information about the firearm that was used to kill the Schmidts.
The Des Moines Register reported that Sherwin came from La Vista, Nebraska. La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten told the newspaper that Sherwin had lived in an apartment complex with his parents and that he had no history of criminal conduct.
Autopsies on Sherwin and the victims were scheduled to be performed over the weekend, Mortvedt said, and more information would likely be released based on those findings.