Three family members were shot and killed Friday while camping in a state park in eastern Iowa, and the suspected gunman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.
Officers responded to reports of the shooting at the Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground before 6:30 a.m. Friday, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a statement. Officers found three fatalities in a tent at the campground, said Mitch Mortvedt, DCI’s assistant director.
9-Year-Old Survived Family Shooting in Maquoketa Caves State Park, Mayor Says
A 9-year-old boy survived Friday morning’s shooting that killed his parents and sister while camping in Maquoketa Caves State Park, the mayor of Cedar Falls said in a Facebook post.
The victims were identified Friday night as Tyler Schmidt, 42, Sarah Schmidt, 42, and Lulu Schmidt, 6, of Cedar Falls.
“Their 9-year-old son Arlo survived the attack and is safe,” Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green wrote. “I notified the neighbors.”
Green said in the post that Sarah Schmidt was a staff member at the Cedar Falls Public Library.
“I knew Sarah well, and she and her family regularly walked here in the Sartori Park neighborhood. I was working with her on a technical presentation at the public library this week.”
Green, who described himself as “devastated” by the dead, said details about services and memorials are in the works.
The Cedar Falls Library closed Saturday “in the interest of the staff who loved and worked with Sarah,” he wrote. “Please extend a little extra grace to the many friends, neighbors and colleagues of the Schmidts as we try to come to terms with this terrible tragedy.”
19:30 Victims identified in shooting in Maquoketa State Park
The Iowa Department of Public Safety has: released the names of the family members killed in Maquoketa State Park.
Those victims were identified as Cedar Falls residents Tyler Schmidt, 42, Sarah Schmidt, 42, and Lulu Schmidt, 6. Officials did not say whether they were related to the suspect or gave a motive for the murders.
“The Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner will perform autopsies on all three victims. Once complete, the findings will be released,” the Public Safety Department publication said. In addition, the state physician will perform an autopsy on suspect Anthony Orlando Sherwin, 23.
“Law enforcement officers would like to thank the public for their assistance with the investigation and their concern for the Schmidt family,” the statement said.
19:00 ‘Gloomy’ atmosphere in nearby restaurant
At the Bluff Lake Catfish Farm restaurant, which is so close to the park that customers and staff usually drive through it to get to the eatery, the mood was “very gloomy” compared to a normal summer Friday, said Maggie Muhlhausen, 30.
Muhlhausen, a regular at the restaurant that borders a wooded creek with a small waterfall, said she sees what happened as evidence of an ongoing American mental health crisis.
“I think it’s an absolute tragedy and I think it’s sad that things like this are happening in the world,” said the lifelong Maquoketa resident.
Mindy Till, 36, who has lived in Maquoketa for three years and frequented the tables at the restaurant, said she was “shocked, surprised and saddened” by the news.
5 p.m.: Park closed through July 28; camping reservations refunded
Armed DNR protection officers kept an eye on the eastern entrance to the park, which was closed on Friday afternoon. In any case, it will remain closed until July 28, DNR spokesman Tammie Krausman said.
“All camping reservations are currently canceled and refunded from last night through Thursday,” she said. “Campers have been notified.”
4:30 PM: Statement from the Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Iowa DNR Director Kayla Lyon released the following statement Friday afternoon:
“I, as well as the DNR staff, are devastated for the families affected by the tragic incident at Maquoketa Caves State Park. Our long tradition of enjoying Iowa’s natural wonders was shaken today, but the legacy for the millions families who recreate at Iowa State Parks continues. This heartbreaking incident affects the DNR family, not only as people passionate about getting people outside, but also as people who regularly camp with our families in the same parks.
“We appreciate the collaboration between local law enforcement, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and DNR State Parks personnel and conservation officials in this investigation.”
3 p.m. Camp Shalom campers boarded ‘as fast as little bunnies’ when counselors were warned
Camp Shalom, a Christian youth camp, is about a mile from the park, and campers make regular trips to the caves during the week.
However, Fridays are 11am pick-up days, so all campers were on the camp grounds when police notified them of the shooting, said Beth Sallak, the camp’s executive aide.
“We heard there was something going on at about 9:13 a.m., and at 9:15 a.m. we said to campers, ‘Hey, we’re going to pick up at Little Bear Park. We’re all going to load into buses and we’re going to put it on the bus as fast as little bunnies.” The staff were very efficient at making that happen and we transported all the campers to Little Bear Park in Maquoketa,” Sallak said.
“We have moved forward in a very calm, calculated manner to keep campers happy, not stressed. And the staff, our camp counselors, are amazing,” she said.
Camp staff provide “warning training for situations like this,” she said.
“This is the world we live in now. ‘What would we do if this happened?’ And so they practiced the evacuation process today,” she said.
14:45 Suspected gunman was ‘known as armed’
After finding out that Anthony Sherwin was the only registered camper missing after the shooting, they started looking for him.
“He was known to be armed. Of course, that also made us aware,” Mortvedt said.
The police used a plane to assist in their search for him.
Sherwin was from Nebraska, and investigators don’t believe he had a previous relationship with the victims, Mortvedt said.
Mortvedt said he couldn’t tell if Sherwin had a criminal record. A search of online court records in Nebraska and Iowa yielded no evidence of past criminal behavior.
Autopsies on Sherwin and the victims would be performed over the weekend, Mortvedt said, and more information would likely be released based on those findings.
2:24 pm: The victims were in a tent
Mitch Mortvedt, deputy director at the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, told the Des Moines Register that the early morning call to police was that three were dead “in a tent.”
When police arrived, they confirmed the dead and began to scout the area and ask people to leave.
“It became apparent that one person was missing from a campground, not the same campground, but within the campground,” Mortvedt said. Police then began searching the park for that missing person.
At the time, the police did not know why he was missing or whether he was a victim or a suspect.
“Eventually, a body of a man was discovered, some distance from the campground, yet in the state park, in the woods,” Mortvedt said. The person, who officials later determined to be Sherwin, had suffered an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Mortvedt said police will investigate what happened, including whether there was any relationship between Sherwin and the other three people found dead. He said police had no reports of a previous altercation in the park.
In any case, the park would remain closed through Friday and perhaps until the weekend if the investigation continues, he said.
2:15 p.m.: US Representative Ashley Hinson tweets: ‘Horrible and pointless’
US Representative Ashley Hinson tweeted this statement after the shooting:
“This was a horrific and senseless act of violence. While we wait to learn more, I join all Iowans in praying for those who lost their lives and our community. My team will remain in contact with local officials and I am grateful to our law enforcement officers who work to keep us safe.”
US Senator Joni Ernst: ‘I am devastated’
US Senator Joni Ernst said: “I am heartbroken to hear of the tragedy at Maquoketa Caves State Park and pray for the victims and their families. My staff and I are monitoring the situation. Grateful to all law enforcement officers who responded.”
1:10 p.m.: US Senator Chuck Grassley tweets: ‘Killing innocent people is sickening’
US Senator Chuck Grassley tweeted the following statement today following the shooting:
“I am closely monitoring the situation at Maquoketa Caves State Park. Pray for the lives lost and their loved ones. I am grateful to the Iowa law enforcement officers who responded + camp staff for ensuring the safety of other campers. Violence cannot be tolerated tolerated Killing innocent people is sickening”
12:45 p.m.: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds releases statement
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds released the following statement today in response to the shooting:
“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.”
12:40 PM: Campground, Camp Shalom cleared
The campground was evacuated after the shooting. A children’s summer camp on the property called Camp Shalom said in a Facebook post that parents had been notified and that it had set up a pick-up area for campers.
“There was an emergency at the Maquoketa Caves this morning. We evacuated the camp as soon as we heard about it. All campers and staff are safe and are being looked after in town at Little Bear Park where we will close worship and pick up at the usual time of 11 a.m.,” camp officials said on Facebook shortly after 10 a.m.
More about Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park has long been considered one of Iowa’s gems for its accessibility and 13 caves that are of four types: solution-focused, mechanical, talus, and rock shelters.
The caves in the park were used by Native Americans and became a popular picnic spot for settlers and souvenir hunters; they stole the white stalactites.
The Great Dancehall Cave at 1,100 feet is the longest wild cavern in Iowa open to the public and easy to hike. The main hallway has a lighting system, but please bring your own lighting.
There is a 50-foot, curved natural bridge over the creek, and smaller rock tubes, such as Bat Passage, and a 17-ton Balanced Rock resting on a base a foot in diameter.
Where is Maquoketa Caves State Park?
Maquoketa Caves State Park is located at 9688 Caves Road, about 10 miles northwest of Maquoketa in Jackson County.
- 1 9-Year-Old Survived Family Shooting in Maquoketa Caves State Park, Mayor Says
- 2 19:30 Victims identified in shooting in Maquoketa State Park
- 3 19:00 ‘Gloomy’ atmosphere in nearby restaurant
- 4 5 p.m.: Park closed through July 28; camping reservations refunded
- 5 4:30 PM: Statement from the Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
- 6 3 p.m. Camp Shalom campers boarded ‘as fast as little bunnies’ when counselors were warned
- 7 14:45 Suspected gunman was ‘known as armed’
- 8 2:24 pm: The victims were in a tent
- 9 2:15 p.m.: US Representative Ashley Hinson tweets: ‘Horrible and pointless’
- 10 US Senator Joni Ernst: ‘I am devastated’
- 11 1:10 p.m.: US Senator Chuck Grassley tweets: ‘Killing innocent people is sickening’
- 12 12:45 p.m.: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds releases statement
- 13 12:40 PM: Campground, Camp Shalom cleared
- 14 More about Maquoketa Caves State Park
- 15 Where is Maquoketa Caves State Park?