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AMES, Iowa —

The Story County Sheriff’s Office says three people died in a shooting outside of Cornerstone Church on the eastern edge of Ames on Thursday night.

Story County authorities provided new details on Friday.

Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald identified the two women killed in the shooting as 22-year-old Eden Moriah Montang, of Boone, and 21-year-old Vivian Renee Flores, of West Des Moines. Fitzgerald identified the shooter as 33-year-old Johnathan Lee Whitlatch.

Fitzgerald said Whitlatch fired several rounds from a 9mm handgun, striking Montang and Flores, then turned the gun on himself. A third woman who was with Montang and Flores was able to find safety and was not injured.

The shooting happened during Salt Company, a college ministry program at the church. It was the first summer night of the program at Cornerstone. Officials said they received multiple 911 calls at 6:51 p.m. on Thursday. Within minutes of the shooting, deputies arrived to find all three down with gunshot wounds. Emergency responders provided aid at the scene, but those attempts were unsuccessful.

“This was a situation that could have unfolded much more tragically had this just been a random act of violence. There was over 80 students in the auditorium at bible study, and if he had found his way inside the church with that intent it would’ve been much more tragic than what we what we have today. This is something where the female and he had just broken up from a relationship and because of that breakup is what caused the charges to be filed by the Ames Police Department,” Fitzgerald added.

Fitzgerald said both Montang and Flores were students at Iowa State University. Montang was a senior in Human Development and Family studies. Flores was a junior in Animal Science. Iowa State is providing resources and support for students and faculty impacted by the tragedy.

Fitzgerald said the shooting was a domestic incident as Whitlatch and Montang were previously in a relationship. The Iowa Army National Guard says Whitlatch and Montang were members of the military branch. Whitlatch joined the Guard in 2015. He served as a human resources specialist. Montang joined in 2019. She served as a mortuary affairs specialist. The National Guard says neither were active duty status at the time of the shooting.

Fitzgerald said Montang had recently broken up with Whitlatch. On May 31, Whitlatch was charged with harassment and posing as a public official by Ames police in a domestic incident. Court documents show Whitlatch called an Ames spa where Eden Montang worked several different times on Wednesday. At times, he claimed to be a police officer, other times using a different fake name. He was scheduled to appear in court on those charges on June 10. Fitzgerald said Montang had a restraining order in place against Whitlatch.

Fitzgerald said the investigation into the shooting continues as a search warrant was executed at Whitlatch’s home in Boone. They took several items into evidence, including computer equipment, electronic files, ammunition, Whitlatch’s pickup, more 9 mm ammunition, and a receipt from a business in West Des Moines, where he purchased ammunition an hour before the shooting.

“We all know this is a very tragic event for our community, but I think also nationwide as we experience the violent incidents nationwide it only seems to increase. The only thing I would like to maybe reiterate and put out there again is expressing our condolences, and our hearts go out to all those affected by this incident. We ask for your thoughts and prayers to be extended out to them, and to provide them with some privacy as they process this,” said Capt. Nicholas Lennie.

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Timeline:

6:51 p.m. The first call to 911 came in. The Story County Sheriff’s Office says those people reported a male shot two people in the parking lot. The suspected gunman is also dead.

7:00 p.m. A KCCI news crew arrived on the scene. Our crew saw people praying and hugging as they came to grips with what happened.

7:45 p.m. Police held a news conference but did not share any information about the two victims or the deceased suspect.

Reaction:

Cornerstone Pastor Mark Vance released the following statement:

“Tonight, a tragic shooting occurred involving two young members of our Cornerstone Church community. Due to the ongoing investigation, we are not able to give any details at this time. We can say, however, that we are more than saddened by the events that transpired. Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected. Our Ministry staff are available to support all those impacted, and we will continue to fully cooperate with authorities as they complete their full investigation.

“We sincerely appreciate the responsiveness of the Story County Sheriff’s Department, Ames PD, and all Law Enforcements Officials who have handled this matter with exceptional professionalism and compassion. Please join us in praying for all affected and their families.

“For anyone interested, we will be holding a prayer service tomorrow, June 3, 2022, at 10 AM, at Cornerstone Church of Ames, 56829 US HWY 30, Ames, IA, 50010. All are welcome to attend in-person or join us online at cornerstonelife.com/live.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds released the following statement via Facebook:

“Tonight’s act of senseless violence took the lives of two innocent victims at their place of worship. Kevin and I grieve for their families who have suffered an unfathomable loss. And while the investigation continues and we learn more, we ask that Iowans pray for the victims and their families, the members of Cornerstone Church, and the entire Ames community.”

She shared more of her thoughts with KCCI’s Marcus McIntosh on Friday:

Check the KCCI Breaking News and Weather App for updates on this developing story.

Previous coverage:

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