Suspected gunman’s motive in Iowa park killings a mystery

The question at the center of an investigation into the killings of three family members — including a 6-year-old girl — at an eastern Iowa state park campground is: Why?

It’s a question that, so far, investigators haven’t been able to answer as they look for any connection between the family and the suspected shooter. They have uncovered little to establish a motive, noting they have not turned up any connection between Anthony Sherwin and those investigators say he killed.

What police have said is that Sherwin, 23, of the Omaha suburb of La Vista, had no criminal history prior to the attack, and investigators said he appeared to target the victims at random. The man’s parents, who had been camping with their son, expressed incomprehension that he would carry out such an attack.

The shooting happened early Friday morning, when the victims from Cedar Falls, Iowa, were found shot to death in their tent at the Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground, about 180 miles east of Des Moines. Police have said Tyler Schmidt, 42; his 42-year-old wife, Sarah Schmidt; and their 6-year-old daughter, Lula Schmidt, all died in the attack.

The couple’s 9-year-old son, Arlo, survived the attack without physical injury, but police have not said whether he was in the tent when the shootings happened. Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said Monday that investigators have spoken to the boy, but declined to reveal what the child said.

“At this time, there’s been nothing discovered as far as anything that precipitated the attack” at the campground, Mortvedt said.

Sherwin’s parents had suggested that he might have heard the shots and grabbed a firearm in the family’s vehicle for self-protection, but Mortvedt discounted that theory.

“Without getting into the fine details of it, with everything that we have learned, we are confident that everything we have reported is how it played out and that he is responsible,” Mortvedt said.

Autopsies on the Schmidts and Sherwin began Sunday and were continuing on Monday, Mortvedt said.

The La Vista Police Department in Nebraska released records Monday showing that it had only one prior contact with Sherwin, when he walked into a police station in July 2017 to report someone had tried to use his insurance to get dental work done in Oklahoma. Sherwin later called police to inform them his insurance company had mistakenly sent him someone else’s bill.

Sherwin’s mother, Cecilia Sherwin, in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, described her son as kind, sensitive, an exceptional student and an aspiring businessman.

“We just arrived home and are trying to absorb the loss of our son and arriving home without him which is unfathomable,” she said. “I didn’t think we had any tears left, but we still find ourselves breaking down and care deeply for the little boy and the loss of his family.”