'I can't believe this is happening': Family, friends mourn the Schmidts, killed at Maquoketa Caves State Park
As word spread that Tyler and Sarah Schmidt and their 6-year-old daughter, Lula, were shot and killed Friday during a camping trip to Maquoketa Caves State Park, family, friends, co-workers and Cedar Falls neighbors poured out their grief online.
"Today, my life has been shattered," Jana Morehouse, who identified herself as Sarah's sister, wrote on Facebook.
"I cannot fathom that she will no longer be on the other side of the phone," Jana Morehouse wrote. "I cannot fathom that I don't get to see Lula grow up."
According to law enforcement officials, the Schmidts' bodies were found in a tent at the state park Friday morning. They had been shot.
Some distance away, but still in the park, law enforcement said they found the body of Anthony Orlando Sherwin, 23, who had apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They said Sherwin is presumed to be the person who shot and killed the Schmidts.
“We have no knowledge of the individual who conducted this act,” Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt’s younger brother, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “We don’t know who it was. We’ve never met that person. And this was 100% random.”
Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety's division of criminal investigation, also said Saturday that the investigation had not revealed any early interaction between the family and Sherwin.
The Schmidts' son, Arlo, 9, survived the shooting and is safe, according to Cedar Falls Mayor Bob Green.
"Like many of you just hearing the news, I'm devastated," Green wrote on Facebook. "I knew Sarah well, and she & her family were regular walkers here in the Sartori Park neighborhood."
Neither law enforcement nor Green said where Arlo Schmidt was at the time of the shooting.
"My nephew is strong and our focus in the next few days is on him," Jana Morehouse wrote in a separate Facebook post.
Kelly Voss, a friend of Sarah Schmidt's said Saturday that Arlo "is a sweet, resilient little boy, and I just hope he knows how many people love him."
A gofundme page for Arlo, organized by Beth Shapiro, who identified herself as Sarah Schmidt's cousin, said, "Arlo is a strong boy, surrounded by family and friends who are supporting him as best we can." By Sunday morning, the page had more than $100,000 in donations.
“They were such an amazing family, filling in each other’s highs, each other’s lows and none of them had any question that they were loved, they all KNEW it. Arlo is probably the smartest kid in his grade, if not the school and I am praying he can overcome this because he is truly destined for great things," said family friend Kate Flather.
'I can't believe this is happening'
Along with an outpouring of grief and many questions, those who knew the Schmidts said they were simply in shock.
"I can't believe this is happening," Voss said.
"I had just spoken with her and we were going to set up another play date soon," Voss wrote in a Facebook post. "We were so excited to get the two 'Lu's' together as both our daughters share the nickname."
"This family was amazing and some of the nicest people you would ever meet," Katie Thurman, another friend of Sarah's, wrote on Facebook.
"You always think these things won't happen to people you know, but they do," wrote Kevin Heyen on Facebook, who said he was friends with both Sarah and Tyler. "They were fantastic people and this is absolutely awful."
Voss said she met Sarah through a moms club in Cedar Falls, and they quickly became friends.
"Sarah was a wonderful person," Voss said, "She had the ability to make you feel at ease around her."
Voss described Sarah as a loving and kind friend, who had a keen interest in science and a love of nature and conservation.
"Being outside was always really important to their family," Voss said.
"It's just awful to think that somebody who was just trying to spend time enjoying nature with their family ends in an unspeakable tragedy," she said.
Committed to family, Cedar Falls
Voss described the Schmidts as an extremely close family and said they went the extra mile to stay connected with their extended family across the country. They expressed the same commitment to their community in Cedar Falls, she said.
Voss said that both adults and children in Cedar Falls looked up to Sarah, who built strong ties with the community through her work at the Cedar Falls Public Library. While there, Voss said, Sarah would share her love of learning with everyone who walked through its doors.
The Cedar Falls Public Library closed on Saturday following news of the deaths, according to a post on the library's Facebook page. Since the announcement, Voss said, members of the community have decorated posters and placed them outside the library to honor Sarah's memory.
"Just her love of reading, and her love of learning and exploring and wanting her kids to be curious," Voss said, "that is something that people will remember."
Sarah's sense of compassion and love for nature were echoed by others who have taken to social media to grieve.
"Please don't take any time for granted," Morehouse, Sarah's sister, wrote on Facebook. "Go outside today. Breathe. Sarah would have wanted that."
Voss set up a meal train to help Sarah's brother, Spencer, and sister-in-law, Jodie, with meals and groceries as they host out-of-town family members and prepare for funerals.
"Sarah and Tyler and Arlo and Lula were the Midwestern family that we all would want to be,” Adam Morehouse, Sarah Schmidt's brother, told the Courier.
'We refuse to believe the news.' Father of suspected shooter says there was no indication of anything wrong
Joseph Sherwin, the father of shooting suspect Anthony Sherwin, told the Des Moines Register that he and his son were camping Friday at the Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Joseph Sherwin said he awoke to the sound of gunshots and someone yelling.
"I saw a young boy run up from the area yelling for help. I told him to keep running in my direction and I would help him. I asked him what happened and he said a man in black shot his family," the father said in an email Saturday. He said his son was not wearing black.
He said his family was "legally traveling with a gun but it was in a secure container under the back seat." He said in the email that his son, who law enforcement said had an apparently self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound, might have grabbed his gun for safety.
"We refuse to believe the news. We are deeply saddened as he had so much to live for and gave us no indication that anything was wrong. We appreciate you respecting our privacy at this time," Joseph Sherwin said. He did not answer follow-up questions from the Register.
Nebraska authorities said and public records show that Sherwin is from La Vista, Nebraska. La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten told the Register Sherwin had lived in an apartment complex with his parents and that he had no history of criminal conduct.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.