Iowa family killed in campground attack; 9-year-old son survives

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The three people killed at an Iowa campground on Friday were a mother, father and child, according to law enforcement and local officials.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation identified them as Tyler and Sarah Schmidt, both 42, and their daughter, Lula, 6, of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Schmidts’ 9-year-old son, Arlo, “survived the attack, and is safe,” Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green wrote in a Facebook post.

Police said they were “notified of a triple homicide” on Friday morning at the Maquoketa Caves State Park campground in eastern Iowa. Officers found the slain couple and their daughter and, after a brief search, the body of Anthony Orlando Sherwin, 23, police said. Sherwin, who is suspected in the killings, apparently shot himself, police added.

3 people killed in shooting at Iowa state park; shooter also dead, police say

The state medical examiner is set to conduct autopsies on the victims, as well as on Sherwin, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said. A motive was not yet clear Sunday afternoon.

Green said he was “devastated” by the Schmidts’ deaths, noting that they were “regular walkers here in the Sartori Park neighborhood” of Cedar Falls, a city of 40,000. He remembered Sarah Schmidt as “a beloved library employee” at the Cedar Falls Public Library, where Green invited neighbors and friends to leave cards and mementos in honor of the family.

A GoFundMe fundraiser for Arlo Schmidt had drawn 2,500 donations amounting to more than $125,000 as of Sunday afternoon. “Arlo is a strong boy, surrounded by family and friends who are supporting him as best we can,” said Beth Shapiro, the fundraiser’s organizer, who said she was Sarah Schmidt’s cousin.

Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s brother, told the Associated Press that the family had no connection to Sherwin and that he believed it was a “completely random act.” Morehouse confirmed that Arlo was with the family during the camping trip but said he did not know exactly where the boy was at the time of the attack, which involved a shooting.

Jana Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s sister, addressed the killings Friday on Facebook. “My beautiful, smart, funny, curly haired sister, her husband, and their 6 year old daughter were victims of a random act of violence while camping as a family in Iowa,” she wrote.

Morehouse added: “I cannot fathom that she will no longer be on the other side of the phone. I cannot fathom that I don’t get to see Lula grow up.”

The state park — about 61 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids — was closed after the shooting, which also forced the evacuation of the Camp Shalom children’s summer camp. Officials told the Des Moines Register that it would remain closed at least through Thursday.

“Our long-standing tradition of enjoying Iowa’s natural wonders was shaken today, but the legacy for the millions of families that recreate at Iowa State Parks will continue,” Kayla Lyon, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Register on Friday.

Known as a destination for spelunkers and hikers, Maquoketa Caves State Park has more caves than any other state park in Iowa. The park contains 13 caves, according to its website.

Felicia Coe of Des Moines told The Washington Post that she, her boyfriend and his children were camping nearby when they heard “two loud thuds” but did not think much of them. But then, she said, her boyfriend and a friend who was also camping there heard a scream and noises that they thought were fireworks. Later, Coe said, she saw a boy waiting near a pair of ambulances wearing a pajama set and one blue shoe.

“He was just standing there,” she said, adding that the boy’s features matched a photograph of Arlo Schmidt. “He was not hysterical.”

Coe, 35, said that her boyfriend’s 16-year-old son went out for a jog at the campground before the incident and that he saw an older couple looking for someone named Anthony — the suspect’s first name. Coe said her boyfriend’s son said the couple knocked on the door while he was in the bathroom and asked, “Anthony, are you in there, buddy?”

Sherwin’s mother, Cecilia Sherwin, told the Omaha World-Herald in an email that she and her family were camping at the park Friday when she heard yelling and two gunshots. She said a boy came up to her and told her that a man had shot his family. She said her family was legally traveling with a gun in a secure container.

“We think (Anthony) might have sensed trouble and grabbed the gun for safety,” Cecilia Sherwin wrote. “We refuse to believe the news. We are deeply saddened as he had so much to live for and gave us no indication that anything was wrong.”

Anthony Sherwin was from La Vista, Neb., where he lived in an apartment complex with his parents, and had no criminal history, La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten told the Des Moines Register.

Cecilia Sherwin said in a second email to the World-Herald that she and her family “cooperated fully with the police and investigative team from the get-go.”

“I didn’t think we had any tears left but we still find ourselves breaking down and care deeply for the little boy and the loss of his family,” she said, adding that her son “gave us no warning that he was planning anything of this sort.”

She again expressed doubt that he had killed the Schmidts. “Anthony was not capable of this sort of violence,” she said.

She told the Des Moines Register in an email, “Why would he throw everything away when he was looking forward to going home? It makes no sense.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said in a statement on Friday that she was “horrified by the shooting this morning at Maquoketa Caves State Park and devastated by the loss of three innocent lives.”

Coe told The Post that she and her boyfriend have had a difficult time grappling with the situation, given the ubiquity of gun violence in the nation.

“It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just unreal,” she said. “And, unfortunately, it’s something that is happening everywhere. But like everyone says, you don’t think it’s so close to you until it’s so close to you.”

Timothy Bella contributed to this report.

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