‘She died for her faith’: Cornerstone Church mourns the loss of two members in their community


Photo by Katherine Kealey/Iowa State Daily

Cornerstone Church is located off of US-30 on the outskirt of Ames. 

Cornerstone Church held an hour-long prayer service for the victims of last night’s shooting at 10 a.m. today. 

As students and members of the church community entered the worship space this morning, cries rang out to the somber tone of a guitar, and hugs seemed to be the only comfort from the shooting that killed two of their members. 

“My daughter died here last night. She was murdered,” Terry Montang, father of one of the women who were killed, said. “The only thing I want everyone to know is that she walked the walk. She died for her faith. I’m proud to have been her father and I don’t know what more there is to say than that she’s with the Lord.”

Eden Mariah Montang, 22, Vivian Renee Flores, 21, and a third friend were supposed to attend a summer bible study session for The Salt Company. 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.

As they were in the parking lot, 33-year-old Jonathan Whitlatch approached the women and fired multiple rounds at them, according to police. Montang and Flores were shot and killed “within seconds” of the gunfire, Sheriff Fitzgerald said. The third friend, who is not identified, was able to get to safety.

Cornerstone Lead Pastor Mark Vance urged that beyond the grief of this tragedy lies hope and comfort for the victims and those impacted. 

“Sometimes, there are weeks when the news comes faster than your heart can keep up,” Vance said. “We’re gathered here to pray, to try to do something in front of God that lets our hearts keep up to something that we can’t quite comprehend — the sort of senseless tragedy that you’re not supposed to comprehend.” 

Following his heartfelt words, the church took a moment of silence for the two women. Tears were flowing, and sniffles could be heard throughout the room. 

When the silence dissipated, music began to fill the space as the audience echoed back to the performer on stage. The wall of sound came from pews full of people. The passion behind their voices was immense and on the verge of cracking. 

Pastor Troy Nesbitt continued the service — eyes puffy and red as tears ran down his face. 

“We’re here to pray,” Nesbitt said. “I hope you didn’t come alone, but if you did, I hope that there’s somebody that’s close enough to you that can touch you and say ‘I love you.’”  

His words encouraged students, families and friends to come together and embrace one another to cope with the overwhelming emotions that came from the horrific shooting. 

Sol Rexius, The Salt Company director, also struggled to come to terms with the events that unfolded. 

“You know, words fail in moments like this,” he said. “But I do want to say thank you to our community who’ve come this morning to support the families and friends and students who have been impacted by this tragedy. It’s really an odd experience — on such a beautiful day —  to experience such a dark moment.” 

When the service concluded, Vance told the church that each and every pastor and counselor was willing to talk and provide support to anyone in this time of mourning. 

The police are still investigating the events that occurred last night, and the Story County Sheriff’s Office asks the community to provide privacy to the families of the two women.