A 9-year-old who was camping in an Iowa 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 has identified the victims as Tyler Schmidt, 42; his 42-year-old wife, Sarah Schmidt; and their 6-year-old daughter Lola Schmidt, all from Cedar Falls, Iowa. Their bodies were found in their tent early Friday at Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Des Moines.
Authorities said the gunman, 23-year-old Anthony Sherwin, was found dead Friday in a wooded area of the park with a gunshot wound.
Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations Division, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the motive for the attack remains unknown.
“We don’t know what led to this, and 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 Sheron and believed it was a “completely random act”.
Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green, who said he is one of Schmidts’ neighbors, posted on Facebook 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 camp site when the shooting occurred, and the mayor told the AP he did not have those details.
Morehouse confirmed that Arlo was on the family’s camping trip, but said he didn’t know exactly where the boy was at the time of the shooting or know details about how it happened.
“He’s with the family and he’s fine, but I haven’t interacted with him,” Morehouse said on Saturday. “As far as I know, he was not physically hurt.”
By Saturday evening, more than $75,000 had poured 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 support 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 the children’s summer camp. After the evacuations, Mortvedt said, Sherwin was the only person whose fate was not known.
He said that during the investigation, authorities learned that Sherwin was armed and “this of course raised our awareness.” Iowa allows people with permits to carry firearms almost anywhere in the state. Officials did not say whether Sherwin had a permit and did not provide any information about the firearm used to kill the Schmidt family.
The Des Moines Register reported that Sherwin was from La Vista, Nebraska. La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten told the newspaper that Sherwin had been living in an apartment complex with his parents and had no history of criminal behaviour.
Felicia Coe, 35, of Des Moines, was at camp Friday morning with her boyfriend and his two sons, ages 11 and 16. She said the 16-year-old got out early to run, and was talking to someone in about 6:30 a.m., when two park rangers, in helmets and jackets and carrying what looked like machine guns, told them to leave camp.
More law enforcement and an ambulance show up when Coe goes to find her boyfriend’s teenage son.
At the time, Koo did not know what had happened. But she remembers seeing a little boy standing near the paramedics.
“He was wearing pajamas. I clearly remember he was wearing blue tennis shoes.” She later saw a photo of the Schmidt family online and said she recognized the boy she saw as Arlo.
“He’s got that cute, supple, frizzy, coarse, strawberry blonde hair that’s really recognizable,” Coe said. “He was wearing these very cute little pajamas, like a T-shirt and matching shorts. …He was just standing there. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t startled. But he also wasn’t feeling well. He was just standing there alone.”
She said the campers got quite a bit of information about what had happened and she started putting it together on the way home.
“It’s hard to be so grateful that they weren’t your family, when you know another family, they’ve been broken up — multiple families,” she said.
Green, the mayor of Cedar Falls, said Sarah Schmidt was working at the city’s public library, which was closed on Saturday.
“Like many of you who have just heard the news, I am shocked,” Green wrote on Facebook. “I knew Sarah well, and she She and her family regularly walked here in the Sartori Park neighborhood. I was working with her this week on a public library technology presentation on 7/26.”
Morehouse said Tyler Schmidt’s parents live in the Cedar Falls area, and Sarah Schmidt’s family members are scattered across the country, but they were headed to Iowa. He said that Tyler and Sarah lived in Lawrence, Kansas, for a while, as 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 pair were huge Kansas Jayhawks fans.
Morehouse said the Schmidt family moved in 2018 to Cedar Falls and has been active in the community ever since. He said they loved the outdoors, and got four pairs of snowshoes for Christmas.
“The best way to describe the four of them was the perfect Midwest family. They gave everyone everything they could. They loved the family… They enjoyed the outdoors, they enjoyed the picnics—and that’s just a question mark about ‘Why is this campground and camp site that night?'”
Forletti reported from Minneapolis.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Lola Schmidt’s first name.