‘Tears and grief’: Iowa church gathers for prayer after deadly shooting


AMES, Iowa – An Iowa congregation is grieving after a gunman fatally shot two college students and then himself in the church parking lot Thursday night.

In a prayer service Friday morning, Cornerstone Church Pastor Mark Vance described the shooting as “something we can’t quite comprehend.”

“This kind of senseless tragedy you’re not supposed to comprehend,” he said.

Johnathan Lee Whitlatch, 33, of Boone, pulled up in a pickup truck to 22-year-old Eden Montang, 21-year-old Vivian Flores and another woman just before 7 p.m. Thursday outside Cornerstone Church on the outskirts of Ames and began shooting with a 9 mm handgun, they said.

Montang and Flores were killed, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said, and Whitlatch shot himself. The women were friends and students at Iowa State University who were walking together to the church for a weekly service that is popular with ISU and high school students, the sheriff said.

About 80 other students were inside the megachurch at the time of the shooting, Fitzgerald said. The church is located near Interstate 35, about 30 miles north of Des Moines.

“Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected, especially the family of the victims,” the church said in the statement.

Fitzgerald said Whitlatch had been arrested May 31 on counts of harassment and impersonating a police officer.

Details of the allegations against Whitlatch weren't immediately available, Story County Capt. Nicholas Lennie said. Whitlatch was released on bond the same day he was arrested, Lennie said, and had been scheduled to appear in court June 10.

A search of Whitlatch’s truck following the shooting turned up 9 mm ammunition and a receipt from a West Des Moines store that showed he bought the ammunition an hour before the shooting, Fitzgerald said. Investigators believe his intent was to kill Montang, Fitzgerald said.

“He was there for a specific purpose, which he accomplished,” the sheriff said.

A search warrant executed at Whitlatch’s home also turned up an AR-15 rifle, which was not used in the shooting.

Whitlatch had been previously arrested for alleged harassment in relation to Montag and had been issued a restraining order.

Vance said during the prayer service that the two women were loved and treasured, “and that’s why there’s tears and grief.”

Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, served for 12 years in Iowa as a director of missions/church starter strategist for the Baptist Convention of Iowa and says Cornerstone Church is “known for its college ministry.”

“Over the years, the church has had a tremendous ministry to students through evangelism, discipleship and missions involvement,” Jones said.

A statement on the church’s website said church staff is “available to support all those impacted, and we will continue to fully cooperate with authorities as they complete their full investigation.”

Information for this story was gathered by The Associated Press and The Baptist Paper.


Iowa, Church shooting