MAQUOKETA, Iowa — Four people are dead following a triple-homicide at the Maquoketa Caves State Park Friday morning, according to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
DCI and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office responded to the state park at approximately 6:23 a.m. following reports of a shooting in the park's campground. Once there, three people were found dead.
The victims were later identified as 42-year-old Tyler Schmidt, 42-year-old Sarah Schmidt and 6-year-old Lula Schmidt; a family from Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Greene said the Schmidt's 9-year-old son was also around during the time of the incident, but he managed to get away and survive.
Sarah Schmidt's sister, Jana Morehouse, took to social media calling the tragedy a "random act of violence."
"Sarah, Tyler, and Lula were not political pawns," Morehouse said. "They were a family, on vacation, and had everything ahead of them. I cannot fathom that she will no longer be on the other side of the phone. I cannot fathom that I don't get to see Lula grow up. Please pray for my family."
Special Agent in Charge Mike Krapfl with DCI did not disclose if the Schmidt's were shot to death or not. Police have also not said what led up to the incident.
After investigating the campsite, law enforcement found one camper was unaccounted for. They searched nearby and discovered the body of 23-year-old Nebraska man Anthony Orlando Sherwin just west of the park. He was named as the suspect in the triple-homicide.
"The three victims were found together in a tent and then the individual that was unaccounted for was from a campsite but within the campground, but within a certain distance away," Iowa DCI Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt said.
DCI reports Sherwin appeared to have suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The agency says there is "no danger to the public."
Krapfl said the park will remain closed until further notice while authorities continue their investigation.
Autopsies for the three victims have been scheduled, and the results will be released afterward. An autopsy has also been scheduled for Sherwin.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support the Schmidt family and their 9-year-old son. Click here for a link. A meal prep page has also been established to cover food costs for the Schmidt family. A link for that website can be found here.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds responded to the shooting Friday afternoon via press release:
“I’m horrified by the shooting this morning at Maquoketa Caves State Park and devastated by the loss of three innocent lives. As we grieve this unimaginable tragedy, Kevin and I pray for the victims’ family members and the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene. We ask Iowans to do the same.”
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon also released a statement Friday about the incident:
"I, as well as the DNR staff, am devastated for the families impacted by the tragic incident at Maquoketa Caves State Park. Our long standing tradition of enjoying Iowa’s natural wonders was shaken today, but the legacy for the millions of families that recreate at Iowa State Parks will continue. This heartbreaking incident hits home for the DNR family; not only as people who are passionate about getting folks outside, but as people who regularly camp with our families at these same parks.
"We appreciate the collaborative work between local law enforcement, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the DNR State Parks staff and conservation officers on this investigation."
WQAD News 8 will update this news story as more information is made available. Download our app and subscribe to our YouTube channel for updates.
More about the caves: Daytrippin’ | Take a look inside Maquoketa Caves, Iowa’s underground treasure