Johnathan Lee Whitlatch was identified as the gunman accused of shooting two Iowa State students to death outside Cornerstone Church near Ames, Iowa.
Whitlatch was a current member of the Iowa National Guard, as was the victim he targeted, Eden Montang, the Guard confirmed to Heavy. Neither was in on-duty status, however. He was a sergeant who joined the guard in 2015; she joined in 2019.
The suspect, 33, of Boone, Iowa, also shot himself to death. On May 30, he changed his profile picture on Facebook to a picture of him working out with the Bible quote, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” His Facebook profile reads, “Where War walks Ruin follows. Spartan King. Never give up! The brighter my sun, the deeper my darkness.”
The shooting occurred on Thursday, June 2, 2022. The church is located just east of Ames, Iowa.
Authorities released Whitlatch’s name in a news conference on June 3. They also released the names of the victims: Eden Mariah Montang, 22, and Vivian Renee Flores, 21. They were located “in the same vicinity” as Whitlatch, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said. The women were shot to death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Gunman Targeted Montang, a Sign Language Student, in the Parking Lot of the Church
Fitzgerald said in the news conference that the shooting was a “domestic situation” between Montang and Whitlatch. They believe he “targeted” her, approaching her in the parking lot. The second victim, Flores, was also struck when he opened fire. A third woman with the two victims found a position of safety and escaped injury, the sheriff said.
On Facebook, Montang wrote that she went to Boone High School, studied at the Massage Therapy Training Institute, and studied American sign language at Iowa State University. She lived in Boone, Iowa.
A week before her death, she wrote about domestic violence on Instagram:
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be in an abusive relationship: whether that’s boundary manipulation, physical violence, or verbally/emotionally malicious. A lot of people think: ‘That would never happen to me…’ ‘I live in a small town…’ ‘I’m smart enough to recognize the signs!’ But it’s not about who YOU are – how smart you are, or how confident you are – it’s about who THEY are – the way they make manipulation look like they have your best interest at heart, the way they’re in fact sincere when they are sorry but don’t end up changing their behavior, their abusive upbringing that perpetuates pain. Hurt people – hurt people. And your role is not to be their healing, redeeming savior….
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In the June 3, 2022, news conference, Fitzgerald revealed that authorities responded to a call of an active shooter and found the two college students slain.
“The three women were in the parking lot going to go in the church,” Fitzgerald said, adding that Whitlatch “pulled up in his pickup, got out, and then the chaos began.”
The sheriff said Whitlatch purchased ammunition for his handgun shortly before the murders.
At 6:51 p.m., authorities received multiple 911 calls from individuals at Cornerstone church. One person said a person with a gun and two other individuals had been shot. Deputies arrived in four minutes.
An Ames police commander attending an elders’ meeting at the church heard the gunfire and responded to the scene, arriving at the same time as the initial deputies.
The shooter was down with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The shooting was isolated to the parking lot, according to Fitzgerald.
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The Story County Sheriff’s Office also wrote in an initial statement that the shooting occurred in the church parking lot.
“At approximately 6:51 pm the Story County Sheriff’s Office received multiple 911 calls reporting that a male individual had shot two people in the parking lot of the Cornerstone Church,” the Sheriff’s office said in a statement posted to Facebook.
“At this time, the Story County Sheriff’s Office can confirm that there are three people deceased, one of them being the male identified as the shooter. There is not an ongoing threat to the community. There will be no further updates at this time.”
911 callers said that a couple victims had been hit with gunfire, according to police Captain Nicholas Lennie, speaking in a news conference. They said other people were inside the church at the time of the shooting.
2. Whitlatch Described How He Once Weighed 325 Pounds & Joined the Guard to Change His Life
A Facebook post from the National Guard said, “PVT Johnathan Whitlatch from Ottumwa joined the Iowa Army National Guard on 3 September 2015 as an 11B Infantryman. Please join us in welcoming him to the team!”
A deleted Iowa National Guard Facebook post on a “soldier spotlight” contained a short interview with Whitlatch. It listed him as “SGT Johnathan Whitlatch, 11B, 42A, 248th Aviation Support Battalion” and said he “joined the Army National Guard September 3rd 2015.”
“What many people do not know is that SGT Whitlatch had tried to join 8 different times before and was told to move along,” the post says. “You see before he was SGT Whitlatch, he was Johnathan Whitlatch and was 325 lbs. when he stopped looking at the scales. Johnathan wanted to change his life and knew what he wanted to do. It was then that Johnathan traveled all over Iowa to find a recruiter that would help him.”
Asked why he wanted to join the National Guard, Whitlatch said:
I always wanted to make a difference, was always told I wouldn’t be a good Soldier from family to my friends and bosses at the time. They said I couldn’t pass basic let alone go very far. I wanted to prove to everyone especially myself that I could, that I was a good leader, and that whatever I put my mind too I’d find a way to accomplish it no matter how difficult it was at the time. I truly despised my life, I was miserable and I knew my life wasn’t meant for where I was at and I felt a pull in a different direction.
Asked what it was like when he got in, he said:
Recruitment Sustainment Program (RSP) was exciting I could tell people were nervous but I worked so hard to get to this point that I loved it even in the moments were people said it was miserable. Even during basic through One Station Unit Training (OSUT) I loved every minute of it. My Drill SGT’s were tough but I wouldn’t want it any other way when I got back to Iowa I was 145 lbs.
Asked if he enjoyed his job, he said:
Enjoy my job would be an understatement, I get to meet such great leaders that help mentor me to become something I always wanted to be, let alone see how hard I work and continue to mentor me into a better leader. It’s always wonderful to meet people who see your true potential and work with them to accomplish the goals I wish to accomplish. While helping me see my mistakes and work with me to get through those obstacles so they become lessons that I can pass on to other Soldiers and to help strengthen me.
Asked for his fondest memory, he said:
I think one of the funniest moments was when we were working a job on post when we had to get a new telephone pole because ours didn’t fit the dimensions and everyone was standing around talking about what to do. I lifted the pole up and everyone was staring at me. I don’t really recall what was said but I remember them talking about how they needed it on the trailer and I squatted down, dead lifted it and put it onto my shoulders and while carried it over to the trailer and dropped it on the trailer. I remember how heavy it was and my CPT at the time along with everyone else was laughing because I thought they were testing me to see if I could do it. They still laugh when they bring it up and had to remind me THIS ISNT A TEST WHITLATCH. So I wouldn’t do something again that required a team lift again.
3. Whitlatch Had a Pending Harassment Case Involving the Victim, Montang, Who Previously Wrote That Their Relationship Was Like a ‘Dream’
According to sheriff’s officials, on May 31, 2022, Whitlatch was arrested by the Ames Police Department and charged with harassment in the third-degree and impersonating a public officials. The charges related to Montang.
He posted bond on these charges and was scheduled to have a June 10 initial appearance in the case, said authorities, who added that search warrants were conducted on the suspect’s residence and vehicle.
Before their relationship disintegrated into abuse, Montang wrote lovingly about Whitlatch on Facebook. “🎶Still feels like a dream 🎶” she wrote in 2021.
That January, she wrote, “🎵 One look at you
My whole life falls in line
I prayed for you
Before I called you mine
Oh, I can’t believe it’s true sometimes
That I get to love you 🎵”
She shared this photo of the couple:
“We’re going to be looking for eyewitness testimony,” Lennie said in the news conference. “What they saw, what they knew, and if there was any relationship to the shooter of the victims.”
The sheriff’s investigation revealed that the females were at the church to attend the Salt Company program, a Bible study program connecting high school and college students. There were 80 students in attendance, according to Fitzgerald.
According to KCCI-TV, the shooting occurred during Salt Company, described as a “college ministry program at the church.”
Captain Nick Lennie with the Story County Sheriff’s Office told KCCI:
“There was a program going on. We do have other individuals inside the church. We do not have any other information at this point if anybody else was injured in this. We are working through the process of investigating this incident and speaking with the others inside the church.”
Police said in a news conference that there was an immediate response.
4. Whitlatch Was Previously Accused of Putting His Hand Down a Woman’s Pants in a Bar
According to the Courier, Whitlatch, then 32, was previously arrested for “allegedly sticking his hand down a woman’s pants at a Cedar Falls bar.”
He was accused of “assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.”
“Authorities allege Whitlatch forcefully placed his right hand down the pants of a woman twice while they were at Deringer’s Public Parlor on Main Street,” the article reports.
Iowa state online court records do not list a disposition for that 2021 arrest.
In 2017, a different woman petitioned for a restraining order against Whitlatch, court records show.
Court records also show a child support action against him.
Cornerstone Church of Ames wrote in a statement on Facebook:
Tonight, a tragic shooting occurred involving two young members of our Cornerstone Church community. It is believed that an adult male shot these two victims and then took his own life. Due to the ongoing investigation, we are not able to give any details at this time. We can say, however, that we are more than saddened by the events that transpired. Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected, especially the family of the victims. Our Ministry staff are available to support all those impacted, and we will continue to fully cooperate with authorities as they complete their full investigation.
We sincerely appreciate the responsiveness of the Story County Sheriff’s Department, Ames PD, and all Law Enforcement Officials who have handled this matter with exceptional professionalism and compassion. Please join us in praying for all affected and their families.
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. For anyone interested, we will be holding a prayer service tomorrow, June 3, 2022, at 10 AM, at Cornerstone Church of Ames, 56829 US HWY 30, Ames, IA, 50010. All are welcome to attend in-person or join us online at cornerstonelife.com/live.
In a June 1 post, the church wrote, “We are a multigenerational church that seeks the hearts of all ages, including the college campus. International Friendship Connection is the ministry we have to create deep relationships with the people in our community who have come from other countries to study here.”
5. Victim Flores Was Remembered as a ‘Wonderful Young Woman of God’
The Iowa State Alumni Association wrote on Facebook:
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.
Quintin Stieff wrote on Facebook:
It is with profound sorrow that I share that one of the two female shooting victims outside Cornerstone Church in Ames last night was from our Valley Church family. (The names were announced this morning by law enforcement officials in Story County.)
Vivian Flores, 21, was an active member of our Student Ministries prior to her move to Ames as a student at Iowa State University. Vivian was a wonderful young woman of God and loved Jesus and her family and friends with great authenticity and faith. One recent, personal memory I have is of Vivian joyfully serving at our Christmas Dinner for Internationals just a few months ago.
It is such a grievous and terrible loss. O Lord, surround Vivian’s family and friends with your supernatural comfort and presence.
Please be in fervent prayer for Vivian’s mother, Reyna, and her twin sister, Valerie, who are a part of our Valley Church family. And pray for all Vivian’s family and friends as they deeply mourn the losses in this senseless tragedy. We weep with those who weep.
And keep in prayer all our brothers and sisters at Cornerstone Church, for the families of all who died, and for everyone in the Ames community who are mourning and grappling with the sorrowful and tragic events of last night. Today is a day of mourning, but we hold fast to the eternal confidence and hope we have in Jesus. He is the Resurrection and the Life.
Iowa’s governor Kim Reynolds decried the violence on Twitter.
Tonight’s act of senseless violence took the lives of two innocent victims at their place of worship. Kevin and I grieve for the families who have suffered an unfathomable loss,” Reynolds wrote on Twitter. “And while the investigation continues and we learn more, we ask that Iowans pray for the victims and their families, the members of Cornerstone Church, and the entire Ames community.”