CEDAR FALLS — Friends and neighbors gathered Tuesday night to remember three victims of July’s unexplained murders at Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Tyler Schmidt, Sara Schmidt, both 42, and their daughter Lula, 6, were shot while on a camping trip on July 22. Their 9-year-old son, Arlo, was at the campsite but survived the incident.
“Tonight we will mourn this devastating loss, but we will also smile and laugh,” said Rob Green, Mayor of Cedar Falls and friend of the couple.
Green and other friends shared their own thoughts and read the thoughts of dozens of others to a crowd of nearly 200 gathered in the hot August air on the Overman Park lawn.
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“Tyler and Sarah were the nicest, kindest, most caring human beings and they both had a sense of humor that surprised you,” Monica Iliff read from a reflection written by a other friend.
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The stories came from everyone from one of Sarah’s graduate advisors to one of Lula’s 6-year-old classmates.
A particularly powerful moment came when Green read a letter from staff at Lincoln Elementary School – where both Lula and Arlo had been students.
“Our school is a better place because of your involvement and support,” Green read. “Thank you for the extraordinary gift of your children.”
A section of the letter was addressed directly to the only surviving family member.
“Arlo, you are a brave and intelligent boy. The Lincoln team will always be there for you. We love you,” Green read.
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What we know about the murder
A 911 call brought law enforcement officers to the campground at 6:23 a.m. Friday, where they found three members of the Schmidt family dead in a tent.
A fourth person, apparent shooter Anthony Orlando Sherwin, also died of a gunshot wound that morning and was eventually located “some distance from the campsite but still in the park”, according to Mitch Mortvedt, assistant manager of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations.
Investigators believe Sherwin, 23 of La Vista, Nebraska, killed the Schmidts with a homemade “ghost” gun before turning it on himself, investigative sources told the Des Moines Register.
State police have released no information about a possible motive for the shooting.
Sherwin’s relatives have said they do not believe him capable of murder.
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What we know about the Schmidts
Sarah Schmidt was born in Kansas City, Kansas, according to the funeral home. Growing up, she played percussion and piano and was part of the high school marching band.
She graduated from Washington High School in Washington, Missouri, before attending Truman State University as a Truman Scholar. She received her master’s degree from the University of Kansas at Lawrence.
Sarah worked for Monarch Watch for several years and had worked at the Cedar Falls Public Library for a year.
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She was an avid reader and enjoyed “knitting, sewing Halloween costumes, making crafts, making handmade greeting cards, being outdoors, bird watching, entomology, gardening, snowshoeing, decorating cakes and pottery at the Hearst Center for the Arts,” according to his obituary. .
Lula Schmidt was born in 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. Just like his parents, Lula loved outdoor activities, playing with his cousins, art, reading and animals, according to his obituary.
Lula attended Farmstead Preschool and Pre-K at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls. She loved her stuffed animals, her Barbies and Our Generation dolls, and being at school with her teachers and friends.
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She had a “great sense of humor”, according to her obituary, often helped her parents cook and helped her brother with his animation scripts.
Private services have already been held for the family, with interment at Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, according to the obituary.
Writer Grace Altenhofen contributed to this story.
Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @francescablock3.