Jun 3, 2022 - News

Sheriff: Man who fatally shot 2 in Iowa church parking lot arrested days before

A photo outside a church in Ames, Iowa.
A person stands outside Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, after a man shot and killed two women in the parking lot June 2 in Ames. Photo: Meg McLaughlin/The Register/via Imagn Content Services

A man who shot and killed two women and then himself in an Ames church parking lot Thursday night had been arrested for harassment allegations involving one of the victims earlier this week, Story County's sheriff said.

Driving the news: Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald identified the shooter during a press conference Friday as 33-year-old Johnathan Lee Whitlatch, of Boone.

  • Fitzgerald said Whitlatch drove to Cornerstone Church and fatally shot Iowa State University students and friends Eden Montang, 22, and Vivian Renee Flores, 21, around 7pm Thursday.

The big picture: The shooting occurred minutes after President Joe Biden delivered a special primetime address about gun control, prompted by multiple mass shootings in recent weeks.

  • Biden called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban Thursday night.

Between the lines: Fitzgerald said Whitlatch was arrested on Tuesday for allegations of harassment and impersonating an officer. He posted bond and was scheduled to have an initial court appearance June 10.

  • Whitlatch and Montang had recently broken up and Montang had a restraining order in place against him, the sheriff said.
  • Investigators believe Whitlatch drove to the church during a youth ministry event intending to shoot Montang.
  • Police found a receipt for ammunition for a 9mm gun — the type used Thursday — in Whitlatch's truck during a search after the shooting, the sheriff said. They also searched Whitlatch's home and found an AR-15 rifle, which wasn't connected to the shooting.
  • Fitzgerald said it wasn't immediately known whether Whitlatch had legally obtained the weapons.

Of note: Whitlatch was also arrested in November on a charge of assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse, according to court records. His pretrial hearing was set for July 7.

What they're saying: It was a "tragic event that we honestly felt we'd never see in our county," Fitzgerald said of Thursday's shooting.

  • Cornerstone Church issued a statement Thursday night, saying its congregation is "more than saddened by the events" and cooperating with law enforcement.

What's next: An investigation is ongoing.

  • No other perpetrators were believed to be involved in Thursday's shooting, Fitzgerald said.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more