AMES, Iowa (AP) — A man who fatally shot two women before killing himself in the parking lot of an Iowa church had been romantically involved with one of the women and faced a court hearing next week on a charge of harassing her, investigators said Friday.
Johnathan Lee Whitlatch, 33, of Boone, pulled up in a pickup truck to 22-year-old Eden Montang, 21-year-old Vivian Flores and another woman just before 7 p.m. Thursday outside Cornerstone Church on the outskirts of Ames and began shooting with a 9 mm handgun, they said.
Montang and Flores were killed, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said, and Whitlatch shot himself. The women were friends and students at Iowa State University who were walking together to the church for a weekly service that is popular with ISU and high school students, the sheriff said.
About 80 other students were inside the megachurch at the time of the shooting, Fitzgerald said. The church is located near Interstate 35, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Des Moines.
“Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected, especially the family of the victims,” the church said in the statement. The church also held a prayer service for the victims Friday morning.
Whitlatch and Montang had recently broken up, Fitzgerald said, and Whitlatch was arrested May 31 on counts of harassment and impersonating a police officer.
Details of the allegations against Whitlatch weren’t immediately available, Story County Capt. Nicholas Lennie said. Whitlatch was released on bond the same day he was arrested, Lennie said, and had been scheduled to appear in court June 10.
A search of Whitlatch’s truck following the shooting turned up 9 mm ammunition and a receipt from a West Des Moines store that showed he bought the ammunition an hour before the shooting, Fitzgerald said. Investigators believe his intent was to kill Montang, Fitzgerald said.
“He was there for a specific purpose, which he accomplished,” the sheriff said.
A search warrant executed at Whitlatch’s home also turned up an AR-15 rifle, which was not used in the shooting.
The shooting follows mass shootings across the nation in recent weeks that have roiled the country. Those include last week’s shooting by an 18-year-old gunman, who killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and an attack Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman killed his surgeon and three other people at a Tulsa medical office. On May 14 in Buffalo, New York, a white man carried out what officials say was a racially-motivated attack on a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood, killing 10 people.