Authorities on Sunday searched for evidence of a shooting of a couple and their young daughter at an Iowa campground, leaving their 9-year-old son the sole survivor — an attack that one family member called “completely random”.
The couple and their daughter — identified as Tyler Schmidt, 42, Sarah Schmidt, 42, and Lula Schmidt, 6 — were found dead Friday morning in a tent at Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground, about 180 miles east of Des Moines. Their son Arlo, 9, survived, said Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green.
A suspect, Anthony Sherwin, 23, was found dead Friday in a wooded area of the park with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, officials said.
“We don’t know what led to this, what precipitated it,” said Mitch Mortvedt, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Public Security Division. “The investigation revealed no early interaction between the Schmidt family and the suspect.
Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s brother, said the family had no connection to Sherwin and believed it was a “completely random act”.
Police responded to reports of a shooting at the campground before 6:30 a.m., Mike Krapfl, special agent in charge of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said in a statement.
Responding officers found the family dead in their tent, Krapfl said.
Authorities searched the campground and found a man missing from another campground, Mortvedt said, eventually finding the body of a Nebraska man they believe was the gunman.
Sherwin “was known for being armed,” Mortvedt said. Iowa allows licensed people to carry firearms virtually anywhere in the state. Officials did not say whether Sherwin was licensed.
TERROR IN THE PARK:Maquoketa Caves State Park camper heard a scream and loud noise near triple murder scene
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 camping when the shootings took place.
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 details of how it unfolded.
“He’s with family and he’s doing well, but I haven’t had any contact with him,” Morehouse said. “As far as I know, he was physically unharmed.”
The murder led to the evacuation of the park and campground, including a summer camp for children. After the evacuations, Sherwin was the only person missing, Mortvedt said.
THE VICTIMS:The victims of the Maquoketa Caves shooting included a 6-year-old and 2 relatives from Cedar Falls
Felicia Coe, 35, of Des Moines, was at the campground with her boyfriend Friday morning. Coe said they heard a scream and a loud noise that resembled fireworks or a slamming car door. Soon they were told to leave by two park rangers dressed in helmets and vests.
As more law enforcement officers and an ambulance arrived, Coe saw a young boy standing with paramedics.
“He was in his pajamas. I clearly remember he had one blue tennis shoe,” she said. She later saw a photo of the Schmidt family online and said she recognized the boy she saw as Arlo.
“He’s got really cute, limp curly, grumpy, strawberry-blonde hair that really stands out,” Coe said. “He was in these super cute little pajamas, like a cotton T-shirt and shorts that match.”
By Sunday afternoon, more than $133,000 had been raised through a GoFundMe page created for Arlo. The page, hosted by a cousin, Beth Shapiro, said: “Arlo is a strong boy, surrounded by family and friends who support him as best he can.” The page says the fund will help Arlo now and help fund his future education.
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Bob Sheets, whose kitchen overlooks the wooded valley and Raccoon Creek south of Maquoketa Caves, said he had never heard of a violent crime in the park in his 45 years in the area.
“People who enjoy the outdoors are happy, healthy people through and through,” said Sheets, a retired wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
In a statement, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds: “I am shocked by the shooting this morning in Maquoketa Caves State Park and devastated by the loss of three innocent lives. As we mourn this unimaginable tragedy, Kevin and I pray for the families of the victims and law enforcement officers who attended the scene. We ask Iowans to do the same.”
Contributions: The Associated Press