AMES, Iowa – Three people were killed in a fatal shooting in the parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Ames on Thursday evening at the start of the church’s summer kickoff for Salt Company, the church’s college ministry.
During a press conference on Friday morning, the Story County Sheriff’s Office announced that 33-year-old Jonathan Lee Whitlatch of Boone, armed with a 9 mm handgun, allegedly shot and killed 22-year-old Eden Mariah Montang and 21-year-old Vivian Renee Flores at 6:50 pm.
Several calls were made to 911 at 6:51 pm, reporting shots fired. Deputies from the Story County Sheriff’s office arrived at the scene at 6:56 pm. At 6:59 pm, law enforcement determined there was no longer an active shooter threat finding Whitlatch down from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Ames Police Commander James Tuttle, an elder at the church who was there for a meeting, was also among the initial responders to the shooting.
Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said that the shooting resulted from a domestic situation between Montang and the shooter. The Story County Sheriff’s Department classified the shooting as a “targeted act of violence.”
Montang, Flores, and a third unidentified college student were walking in the parking lot to the church building when Whitlatch pulled up in his truck and started firing. The third student found cover and was unharmed.
Before the shooting, Whitlach was charged by Ames Police and arrested in Boone County with harassment in the third degree and impersonating a public official related to an incident with Whitlach following a break-up of their relationship. He posted bond on May 31, and his initial appearance was scheduled for June 10.
Fitzgerald said the situation could have been worse if the shooting was a random act of violence.
“This was a situation that could have unfolded much more tragically had this just been a random act of violence. There were over 80 students in the auditorium and Bible study. And if he’d found his way inside the church with that intent, it would have been much more tragic than what we have today,” he said.
“Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected, especially the family of the victims. Our Ministry staff are available to support all those impacted, and we will continue to fully cooperate with authorities as they complete their full investigation,” Cornerstone Church said in a message on their website, thanking law enforcement for their assistance.
A prayer service was held at the church on Friday morning.
“Tonight’s act of senseless violence took the lives of two innocent victims at their place of worship. Kevin and I grieve for the families who have suffered an unfathomable loss,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement on Thursday evening. “And while the investigation continues and we learn more, we ask that Iowans pray for the victims and their families, the members of Cornerstone Church, and the entire Ames community.”
Fitzgerald said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have assisted the Story County Sheriff’s Office in their investigation. Also responding to the active shooter call were units from the Ames Police Department, Nevada Police Department, Story City Police Department, and Huxley Police Department.