Family murdered in tent at campground, 9-year-old boy the only survivor
MAQUOKETA, Iowa (AP) - A 9-year-old boy who was camping at an Iowa state park with his parents and 6-year-old sister survived a shooting that killed the rest of his family.
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, all of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Their bodies were found in their tent early Friday at the Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground, about 180 miles east of Des Moines.
Authorities said the suspected gunman, 23-year-old Anthony Sherwin, was found dead Friday in a wooded area of the park with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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.
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.
He 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 used to kill the Schmidts.
The Des Moines Register reported that Sherwin was from La Vista, Nebraska. La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten told the newspaper that Sherwin lived in an apartment complex with his parents and had no history of criminal conduct.
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.
Green, the Cedar Falls mayor, said Sarah Schmidt worked at the city’s Public Library, which was closed Saturday.
“Like many of you just hearing the news, I’m devastated,” Green wrote on Facebook. “I knew Sarah well, and she & her family were regular walkers here in the Sartori Park neighborhood. I was working with her this week on a public library tech presentation for 7/26.”
Morehouse said Tyler Schmidt’s parents live in the Cedar Falls area, and Sarah Schmidt’s family members are scattered around the country, but were heading to Iowa. He said Tyler and Sarah lived in Lawrence, Kansas, for a time, where Sarah worked at the University of Kansas. Tyler was an IT software engineer. At one point, he said, Sarah worked on a project about monarch butterflies, and the couple were huge Kansas Jayhawks fans.
In 2018, the Schmidts moved to Cedar Falls and had been active in the community ever since, Morehouse said. He said they loved the outdoors, and just got four pairs of snowshoes for Christmas.
“The best way to describe all four of them was the quintessential Midwestern family. They gave everybody everything they possibly could. They loved family ... They enjoyed the outdoors, enjoyed the hiking — and this is just a question mark of ‘Why that campground and that campsite on that night?’”
Forliti reported from Minneapolis.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Lula Schmidt’s first name.
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