AMES, Iowa — The shooting that left two women and the gunman dead outside of an Ames church Thursday night was the result of a "domestic situation" between the shooter and one of the victims, according to the Story County Sheriff's Office.
The department held a press conference Friday morning to release more details about the shooting. They identified the two victims as 21-year-old Vivian Renee Flores and 22-year-old Eden Mariah Montang. They were both students at Iowa State University and were at the church for The Salt Company, a college ministry.
The shooter was identified as 33-year-old Johnathan Lee Whitlatch of Boone.
The shooting happened outside of Cornerstone Church Thursday night. The sheriff's office said the Story County 911 Center received multiple calls at 6:51 p.m. A caller reported a person had a gun and two other individuals had been shot.
Deputies were dispatched to the church located along Highway 30 just southeast of Ames at 6:52 p.m. and were at the scene five minutes later.
Ames Police Commander Jason Tuttle was at the church for an elder meeting when the shooting happened, the sheriff's office confirmed Friday morning. Tuttle heard gunfire and responded to the situation at about the same time as deputies, who arrived at approximately 6:59 p.m.
A deputy confirmed Whitlatch was down from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The sheriff's office says Whitlatch approached Montang in the parking lot of the church with a 9mm pistol. Flores and another woman were with Montang. Whitlatch fired "several rounds," fatally injuring Montang and Flores.
The third woman was able to find "a position of safety" and was not harmed physically, the sheriff's office said.
Whitlatch and Montang were in a relationship prior to the shooting. Both were also members of the Iowa National Guard.
Montang served as a mortuary affairs specialist with Detachment 1, Headquarters Support Company, 248th Aviation Support Battalion in Boone.
Whitlatch was a sergeant and human resources specialist with Detachment 1, Headquarters Support Company, 248th Aviation Support Ballation in Boone.
"We are devastated by this tragic news," Maj. Gen. Ben Correll said in a statement.
"Psalm 34:18 says, 'The Lord is near to the brokenhearted'. Right now, we are brokenhearted and we need God to draw near to us," Cornerstone said in a post Thursday night.
Ames police charged Whitlatch Tuesday with third-degree harassment and impersonating a public official. Both charges were directly related to Montang.
Criminal complaints allege Whitlatch called an Ames business repeatedly while identifying himself as a police officer, and wanted to "report" Montang. The phone at the business automatically recorded the calls.
Whitlatch posted bond for the charges and had a court date set for June 10. Search warrants were conducted on his residence as well as his vehicle at the scene of Thursday night's shooting.
The search warrants conducted Thursday night did find an AR-15 rifle at Whitlatch's residence, but the sheriff's office said it "played no part in this event whatsoever." Authorities also confiscated computer equipment and electronic records from his home as well.
The search warrant conducted on the gunman's truck discovered more 9mm ammunition and a receipt from a West Des Moines business that had sold him the ammunition an hour before the shooting happened.
"We are a resilient community. But we ask out of respect for those impacted to be allowed to mourn and process this event privately," Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said.
Iowa State University administration released a statement Friday, saying in part:
"We are heartbroken to learn of the deaths of two Iowa State University students who were killed last night outside of Cornerstone Church in Ames. Eden Montang was a senior in the College of Human Sciences from Boone and Vivian Flores was a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences from West Des Moines. We extend our deepest condolences to their families and friends.
Our hearts are also with the other students who were at the church at the time of the shooting. We know many others in our community attend services or are members at Cornerstone."
People who knew the victims are starting to speak out. Dr. Shawn Nicholson, a veterinarian in Stuart, said he work with Flores in the summer of 2021 when she came to learn about large animal medicine.
"She just had a great personality, very friendly. [She] had a good basic working knowledge of veterinary medicine from her her job at the small animal clinic," Dr. Nicholson told Local 5.
He also said that he was shocked by the Flores' death.
"It's a very sad loss for everyone that knew her and the profession."
Watch Local 5's coverage of the shooting on YouTube: