An Iowa National Guard soldier and a civilian woman were both killed by another Guardsman during a June 2 shooting at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa.
Spc. Eden Mariah Montang, 22, and Vivian Renee Flores, 21, were killed when Sgt. Johnathan Lee Whitlatch, 33, approached the women and opened fire, according to a press conference from the Story County Sheriff’s Office. A third woman managed to find cover and was unharmed.
“Within a matter of seconds, Eden Montang and Vivian Flores were fatally injured from the gunfire,” Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said.
Whitlatch then turned the gun on himself, dying of a self-inflicted 9mm gunshot wound to the head. More than 80 other Iowa State College students were present at the church at the time of the shooting.
The incident was a “targeted act of violence” against Montang after she ended a romantic relationship with Whitlatch in the days leading up to the shooting, Fitzgerald said.
Whitlatch had been arrested on May 31 for third-degree harassment and impersonating a public official in Boone County in “charges directly related” to his relationship with Montang, Fitzgerald added. He was released after posting bail and was scheduled to stand trial June 10.
In a post made to her Instagram account on May 26, Montang also discussed abusive relationships and how they can happen to anyone.
The Iowa Guard said there was an ongoing investigation into Whitlatch’s relationship with Montang because Army regulations strictly govern relationships between soldiers of different ranks, according to Iowa Guard spokesperson Sgt. First Class Christie Smith.
“At this time, I am not aware of a military complaint filed by SPC Montang regarding her relationship with SGT Whitlatch, but command was aware” of their relationship and began an investigation, Smith told Army Times. “Results of that investigation are being withheld pending the conclusion of the ongoing law enforcement investigation.”
A press release from the Iowa Guard said Whitlatch enlisted in 2015 and was serving as a human resources specialist with Detachment 1, Headquarters Support Company, 248th Aviation Support Battalion. He previously served as an infantryman with the 168th Infantry in Iowa.
Montang was a mortuary affairs specialist also assigned to the 248th Aviation Support Battalion. She joined the Iowa Army National Guard in 2019.
In a separate incident involving an unidentified victim in November 2021 — during which time Whitlatch was already romantically involved with Montang, according to her Facebook — he was charged with assault with intent to commit sexual abuse in Cedar Falls, but the charges have since been dismissed.
Search warrants were carried out on Whitlatch’s home and pick-up truck, the latter from which law enforcement officials recovered gun ammo and a receipt from the purchase of his 9mm pistol. No additional details have been released at this time.
At the time of her death, Montang had been studying American Sign Language at Iowa State University where she was a senior, according to her Facebook page. She also previously graduated from the Massage Therapy Training Institute as a licensed massage therapist in 2019, where she had been “learning how to provide healing health care through caring hands.”
Montang’s father, Terry Montang who is a retired Army master sergeant with 32 years of service himself, said at a June 3 prayer service: “What I want everyone to know is that she walked the walk. She died for her faith. I’m proud to have been her father. I’m not sure what more there is to say than she is with the Lord.”
Montang’s family also released a statement through Cornerstone Church, sharing how beloved she was.
“She was unrelenting in her values and strong sense of right and wrong. She was intellectually gifted, articulate and confident. In less (than) 20 minutes, she could do farm chores and write a poem all while drinking a glass of wine,” the statement read.
“She deeply loved her family and her beloved dog, Takoda. Eden was a beautiful garden that we were lucky enough to watch grow,” the statement added.
Montang is survived by her parents Mia and Terry Montang, as well as her brother Ethan and sister Elyse.
“We are devastated by this tragic news,” Maj. Gen. Ben Corell, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard wrote of the shooting.
“Our hearts are with all who are impacted, including the victims’ families, Ames, Iowa State and Cornerstone Church communities, friends, and fellow service members,” Corell added. “While working to support those affected, we will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the investigation continues.”
The families of both soldiers will be receiving casualty assistance, the press release added.
Flores, the second victim, was not an Iowa National Guardsman but a fellow Iowa State University student. She was studying animal science with the hope of becoming a veterinarian.
Police do not believe Flores had any sort of relationship with Whitlatch. Instead, she was simply a fellow Cornerstone Church-goer and friend of Montang’s who was tragically caught in the crossfire, police said.
The Ames shooting was just one of many recent public shootings carried out across the country in the past few weeks. Another shooting occurred in Racine, Wisconsin — also on June 2 — where two women were killed while attending a funeral when more than 20-30 shots were fired at the gravesite.
The Iowa shooting additionally marks yet another instance of gun violence affecting military members. Nineteen fourth-graders and two teachers were also killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. One of the teachers killed after using her body to shield students, Irma Garcia, was the mother of a Marine.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting. She has also written for VTDigger and New York Magazine, and previously worked as the Early Bird Brief Editor for Defense News and Military Times.