Update: Gunman knew victims, bought ammo one hour before shooting


The Story County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference June 3, where they released details of the shooting at Ames’ Cornerstone Church.

Amber Mohmand

Two Iowa State students were killed in the shooting at Cornerstone Church on Thursday, according to Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald. 

“Yesterday, we experienced a tragic event that we honestly thought we [would] never see in our county,” Fitzgerald told reporters Friday. “The Story County Sheriff’s Office wishes to extend our condolences, thoughts and prayers to the family of all the deceased and all affected by this tragedy.” 

The Story County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference this morning in which they released details of last night’s shooting at Ames’ Cornerstone Church.

Police identified the gunman as Jonathan Whitlatch, 33, of Boone. The two victims were identified as Eden Mariah Montang, 22, and Vivian Renee Flores, 21. 

Montang was from Boone and was a senior majoring in human development and family studies, and Flores, from West Des Moines, was a junior majoring in animal science. Shortly after the Story County Sheriff’s Office press conference, the Office of the President released a statement regarding the death of the students. 

“We are grateful for the quick action of the first responders,” the email stated. “The Story County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation. The suspected shooter, who was not a member of the ISU community, took his own life. This is an especially difficult time as we also process recent shooting deaths that have occurred across the country. There is no justification for this senseless gun violence. These terrible tragedies must end.”

Whitlatch knew the victims, as he and Montang had a prior relationship, according to police. The shooting was a targeted act of violence, as “Whitlatch approached Eden in the parking lot armed with a 9mm pistol,” Fitzgerald said. 

Montang and Flores, along with another friend, were supposed to attend a Salt Company meeting, which takes place at 7 p.m. every Thursday at Cornerstone Church. About 80 people attended Thursday night’s service, Fitzgerald said. 

Whitlatch approached the women in the parking lot and fired multiple rounds at them, according to police. Montang and Flores were shot and “within seconds” killed from the gunfire, Fitzgerald said. The third friend, who is not identified, was able to get to safety. 

Ames Police Cmdr. Jason Tuttle was at the church for an elder meeting at the time of the shooting. He heard the shots and took necessary action. According to Fitzgerald, deputies arrived at the scene within minutes of the initial dispatch. 

At 6:59 p.m. — eight minutes after the first 911 call — deputies confirmed Whitlatch died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. 

“This was a situation that could have unfolded much more tragically had this just been a random act of violence,” Fitzgerald said. “… And if he had found his way inside the church with that intent, it would have been much more tragic than what we have today.” 

Two days prior, the Ames Police Department charged Whitlatch with third-degree harassment and impersonating a public official, which were directly related to Montang. He posted bond on these charges and was scheduled for a court hearing June 10, according to police.

Officials executed a search warrant for Whitlatch’s residence in which they found an AR-15, though police say it played no part in the shooting and ammunition for the 9mm pistol. 

“We found more 9mm ammunition and a receipt from a business in West Des Moines where an hour before he had purchased 9mm ammunition,” Fitzgerald said. 

Evidence indicates Whitlatch was there for a purpose, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald said that no one else was injured from Thursday’s shooting as it was isolated to the church parking lot. 

This is still an ongoing investigation for the Story County Sheriff’s Office, and they ask the community to provide privacy to the families of the two women.

“We are a resilient community,” Fitzgerald said. “But we ask out of respect for those impacted to be allowed to mourn and process this evening.”

Following the press conference, Mayor John Haila released a statement on behalf of the Ames City Council. 

This tragic event creates unbearable sadness and confusion during already troubling times,” Haila said in the statement. “When confronted with difficult, complex problems, we need effective solutions to combat violence. As a community and as a country, we must work together to create an environment where hurting others is never an acceptable solution. These are not times to lose hope, but to unite and move forward.”