Three family members were shot and killed while camping in an eastern Iowa state park Friday, 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 people fatally shot in a tent at the campground, DCI assistant director Mitch Mortvedt said.
9-year-old survived shooting of his family at Maquoketa Caves State Park, mayor says
A 9-year-old boy survived the Friday morning shooting that killed his parents and sister as they camped at Maquoketa Caves State Park, the mayor of Cedar Falls said in a Facebook post.
The victims were identified Friday evening 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,” wrote Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green. “I’ve notified neighbors.”
Green said in the post that Sarah Schmidt was an employee at the Cedar Falls Public Library.
“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.”
Green, who described himself as “devastated” by the deaths, said that details were in the works about services and memorials.
The Cedar Falls Library will be closed Saturday “for the sake of the staff who loved and worked with Sarah,” he wrote. “Please offer some extra grace to the Schmidts’ many friends, neighbors, and coworkers as we try to process this horrible tragedy.”
7:30 p.m. Victims identified in Maquoketa State Park shooting
The Iowa Department of Public Safety has released the names of the family members killed at the Maquoketa State Park.
Those victims were identified as Cedar Falls residents Tyler Schmidt, 42, Sarah Schmidt, 42, and Lulu Schmidt, 6. Public officials have not said if they were related to the suspect or provided a motive for the killings.
“The Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner will conduct autopsies of all three victims. Once completed, the findings will be released,” the public safety department’s release said. “Additionally, the State Medical Examiner will perform an autopsy on suspect Anthony Orlando Sherwin, 23.
“Law enforcement would like to thank the public for their assistance with the investigation and their concern for the Schmidt family,” the statement said.
7 p.m. ‘Somber’ mood at nearby restaurant
At Bluff Lake Catfish Farm restaurant, which is so close to the park that patrons and staff usually drive through it to get to the eatery, the mood was “very somber” compared to a normal summertime Friday, said Maggie Muhlhausen, 30.
Muhlhausen, a regular customer at the restaurant that abuts wooded creek with a small waterfall, said she sees what happened as evidence of an U.S. ongoing mental health crisis.
“I think it’s an absolute tragedy and I think it’s sad that there are things like this going on in the world,” said the lifelong Maquoketa resident.
Mindy Till, 36, who has lived in Maquoketa for three years and busses tables at the restaurant, said she was “shocked and surprised and sad” by the news.
5 p.m.: Park closed through July 28; camping reservations refunded
Armed DNR conservation officers monitored the eastern entrance to the park, which was blocked off Friday afternoon. It will remain closed through at least July 28, DNR spokesperson Tammie Krausman said.
“All camping reservations have been canceled and refunded from last night through Thursday at this time,” she said. “Campers have been notified.”
4:30 p.m.: Statement from director of Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Iowa DNR Director Kayla Lyon released the following statement Friday afternoon:
“I, as well as the DNR staff, am devastated for the families impacted by the tragic incident at Maquoketa Caves State Park. 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. This heartbreaking incident hits home for the DNR family; not only as people who are passionate about getting folks outside, but as people who regularly camp with our families at these same parks.
“We appreciate the collaborative work between local law enforcement, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the DNR State Parks staff and conservation officers on this investigation.”
3 p.m. Camp Shalom campers went ‘quick as little bunnies into the bus’ when counselors were alerted
Camp Shalom, a Christian camp for young people, is about a mile and a half from the park and campers frequently take trips to the caves throughout the week.
Fridays are pick-up days at 11 a.m., however, so all campers were on the camp property when law enforcement notified them of the shooting, Beth Sallak, the camp’s executive assistant, said.
“We heard that something’s going on at about 9:13 a.m., and then at 9:15 a.m., is when we told campers, ‘hey, we’re going to do pick up at Little Bear Park. We are going to all load up into buses and we’re going to do it quick as little bunnies into the bus.’ Staff was very efficient in making that happen, and we transported all the campers to Little Bear Park in Maquoketa,” Sallak said.
“We moved forward in a very calm, calculated way to keep campers happy, not stressed. And the staff, our camp counselors, are stellar,” she said.
Camp staff does ‘alert training for situations like this,” she said.
“This is the world we live in now. ‘What would we do if this happened?’ And so that’s what they exercised today was the evacuation process,” she said.
2:45 p.m. Suspected shooter was ‘known to be armed’
After they learned that Anthony Sherwin was the only registered camper unaccounted after the shooting, they began their search for him.
“He was known to be armed. That of course heightened our awareness as well,” Mortvedt said.
Law enforcement used a plane to aid in their search for him.
Sherwin came from Nebraska, and investigators don’t believe he had any prior relationship with the victims, Mortvedt said.
Mortvedt said he could not say whether Sherwin had a criminal record. A search of online court records in Nebraska and Iowa did not produce any record of prior criminal behavior.
Autopsies on Sherwin and the victims were scheduled to be performed over the weekend, Mortvedt said, and more information would likely be released based on those findings.
2:24 p.m.: The victims were inside a tent
Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, told the Des Moines Register that the early morning call to law enforcement was that there were three people dead ‘inside a tent’.
When police arrived they confirmed the deaths and began canvassing the area and asking people to leave.
“It became apparent that there was one individual missing from a camp site, not the same camp site but within the campground,” Mortvedt said. Law enforcement then began searching the park for that missing person.
At that point, law enforcement did not know why he was missing or whether he was a victim or a suspect.
“Ultimately, a body of a male was discovered, some distance from the camp site but yet in the state park, in the timber,” Mortvedt said. The person, whom officials later determined was Sherwin, had suffered an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Mortvedt said law enforcement will investigate what occurred, including whether there was any relationship between Sherwin and the other three people who were found dead. He said law enforcement did not have any reports of an earlier altercation at the park.
The park would remain closed at least through Friday and perhaps through the weekend as the investigation continues, he said.
2:15 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson tweets: ‘Horrifying and senseless’
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson tweeted this statement following the shootings:
“This was a horrifying and senseless act of violence. As we wait to learn more, I join all Iowans in praying for those who lost their lives and our community. My team will continue to be in contact with local officials and I am grateful for our law enforcement officers who are working to keep us safe.”
2:02 p.m. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst: ‘I am heartbroken’
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said: “I am heartbroken to hear of the tragedy in Maquoketa Caves State Park and am praying for the victims and their families. My staff and I are following the situation. Thankful for all of the responding law enforcement.”
1:10 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweets: ‘Killing innocent ppl is sickening’
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted the following statement today in response to the shootings:
“I’m closely monitoring situation in Maquoketa Caves State Park. Praying for the lives lost & their loved ones Im grateful for Iowa law enforcement who responded +camp staff for ensuring safety of other campers Violence can’t be tolerated Killing innocent ppl 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 shootings:
“I’m horrified by the shooting this morning at Maquoketa Caves State Park and devastated by the loss of three innocent lives. As we grieve this unimaginable tragedy, Kevin and I pray for the victims’ family members and the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene. We ask Iowans to do the same.”
12:40 p.m.: Campground, Camp Shalom evacuated
The campground was evacuated in the wake of the shooting. A children’s summer camp on site called Camp Shalom said in a Facebook post that parents had been notified and that it had established a pick-up site for campers.
“There was an emergency situation this morning at the Maquoketa Caves. We evacuated camp as soon as we learned about it. All campers and staff are safe and accounted for in town at Little Bear Park, where we will do closing worship and pickup at the usual 11am time,” 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 — solutional, mechanical, talus and rock shelters.
The caves in the park were used by Native Americans and became a popular picnicking spot for settlers and souvenir hunters; they stole the white stalactites.
The large, 1,100-foot Dancehall Cave is the longest wild cave open to the public in Iowa and easy to walk. The main passage has a lighting system but bring your own lights.
There is a 50-foot, arching Natural Bridge over the creek, and smaller rock tubes, like Bat Passage, and a 17-ton Balanced Rock that rests on a base a foot in diameter.
Where is Maquoketa Caves State Park located?
Maquoketa Caves State Park is located at 9688 Caves Road, about 10 miles northwest of Maquoketa in Jackson County.