‘We don’t know what led up to this’: 9-year-old boy survives Iowa campground shooting that killed family

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Authorities searched for clues Sunday into a shooting of a couple and their young daughter at an Iowa campground that left their 9-year-old son as the sole survivor — an attack 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 in Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground about 180 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa. Their son Arlo, 9, survived, Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green said. 

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 up to this, what precipitated it,” said Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigation. “The investigation has not revealed any early interaction between the Schmidt family” and the suspect.

Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s brother, said the family had no connection to Sherwin and he believed it was a “completely random act.”

Police responded to reports of a shooting at the campground before 6:30 a.m., said Mike Krapfl, special agent in charge of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, in a statement.

Responding officers found the family dead in their tent, Krapfl said.

Authorities searched the campground and discovered a man was missing from another campsite, Mortvedt said, and eventually found the body of a Nebraska man who they believe was the gunman.

Sherwin “was known to be armed,” Mortvedt said.

TERROR IN THE PARK: Maquoketa Caves State Park camper heard a scream and a loud noise near site of triple homicide

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.

Morehouse confirmed Arlo was on the family’s camping trip but said he did not know where the boy was at the time of the shooting. “He is with family and he is OK, but I have not had any interaction with him,” he said.

The slaying prompted the evacuation of the park and campground, including a children’s summer camp. Sherwin was the only person unaccounted for after the evacuation, Mortvedt said.

In a statement, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said: “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.” 

‘Senseless act of violence’

Felicia Coe, 35, of Des Moines, was at the campground Friday morning with her boyfriend. Coe said they heard a scream and a loud sound resembling a firework or a car door slamming. Soon they were told to leave by two park rangers dressed in helmets and vests. 

As more law enforcement officers and an ambulance showed up, Coe spotted a boy with “memorable” hair standing near 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.”

As of Sunday afternoon, more than $136,000 had been raised by a GoFundMe page created for Arlo. “Arlo lost both of his parents, Sarah and Tyler Schmidt, and his 6-year-old sister, Lula, to a senseless act of violence during a family vacation at a state park in Iowa on July 22. Arlo is a strong boy, surrounded by family and friends who are supporting him as best we can,” reads a statement on the page, organized by a cousin. 

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THE VICTIMS: Maquoketa Caves shooting victims included 6-year-old and 2 family members from Cedar Falls

Bob Sheets, whose kitchen overlooks the wooded valley and Raccoon Creek south of Maquoketa Caves, said he has never heard of a violent crime at the park in his 45 years in the area.

“People who like the outdoors are pretty doggone happy, healthy people,” said Sheets, a retired Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.

Contributing: Des Moines Register; The Associated Press 

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