Autopsies reveal Maquoketa state park victims died of gunshots, stab wounds, strangulation

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A map at the Maquoketa Caves State Park is seen July 22 in Maquoketa.
A map at the Maquoketa Caves State Park is seen July 22 in Maquoketa.

The family of three killed while camping at Maquoketa Caves State Park in July died from gunshot wounds, stab wounds and strangulation, according to autopsy results released Thursday by the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Tyler and Sarah Schmidt and their 6-year-old daughter, Lula, were found dead in their tent on the morning of July 22. A fourth person, identified as alleged shooter Anthony Orlando Sherwin, was found dead in another section of the park. All the evidence indicates Sherwin, 23, of La Vista, Nebraska, acted alone, state law enforcement said.

Tyler Schmidt, 42, died of a gunshot wound and multiple stabbing injuries, according to the Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner. Sarah Schmidt, 42, died from being stabbed multiple times. Lula Schmidt, 6, died from a gunshot wound and strangulation. All three deaths have been ruled homicides, according to the state public safety department.

Sherwin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the medical examiner. His death has been ruled a suicide, state officials said.

The Schmidts, of Cedar Falls, have been remembered as dedicated to their family and their community. Tyler and Sarah Schmidt had great hearts for the community, colleagues said, and Lula had a bright, curious nature, a school staffer said.

The Schmidts' 9-year-old son, Arlo, survived the attack. Law enforcement authorities have not said where he was when his family members were killed.  A GoFundMe to support him has raised more than $270,000.

More: 'We can feel the love everywhere we go': Cedar Falls community unites to honor the Schmidts

The investigation into the killings is ongoing

The autopsies were conducted on July 24 and 25, said Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation. The department was waiting on results from additional testing before releasing the results, Mortvedt said. He declined to describe the weapons used in the stabbings or strangulation.

Investigators are aware of a possible motive but will not release it publicly, Mortvedt said.

"The investigation into the events surrounding the homicides is ongoing," the news release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety said.

La Vista Police Chief Robert Lausten said his officers checked the Sherwin family's Nebraska apartment after hearing the news of the slayings but found no other victims or any suicide note suggesting what, or why, Anthony Sherwin allegedly killed the Schmidts and himself.

Investigative sources have told the Des Moines Register that Sherwin allegedly used a ghost gun in the shootings, and on himself. Ghost guns are untraceable homemade guns.

More: Presumed killer in Maquoketa Caves triple shooting used a ghost gun, investigative sources say

Sherwin's parents told the Register that their son built his own weapon. His mother, Cecilia Sherwin, said the family didn't want him to purchase a gun, but thought building one made sense given an increase in crime around where they lived in Nebraska.

"He only had an interest in guns for a few months before he grew tired of it. By the time we took our trip he told us he was going to get rid of them. We were relieved as we never owned a gun of any kind before this year. We only had one in the car on the trip. He didn't have a fascination as much as it was a challenge to build it," she said in an email.

"He did not want to bring the gun on the trip but we thought it would be ok considering crime and bears," she wrote, adding a bear did invade their camp on at least one night of the trip.

What the presumed killer's parents say about their son

Despite police reports, the presumed shooter's parents said they believe their son is innocent and "a victim of homicide," too.

"We're devastated by all of this and still believe our son was murdered," Cecilia Sherwin wrote in an email to the Register. "He had too much to live for to throw it all away like this."

She said that after the family was infected with COVID-19 in April, "we began having health issues. We also had neurological problems we were hoping and praying would work themselves out." She did not share more about those issues.

Cecilia Sherwin said her son was working on a computerized system that would support a business, which she said was "worth millions." He planned to use the business to support his parents and help them — and Sherwin himself — retire early, she said. She did not elaborate on the type of business Sherwin was working on, but said in emails that he needed "tight security" because of it.

"I honestly can say he was the best son a parent could wish for," his mother wrote Thursday.

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at or on Twitter at @francescablock3.

Eric Ferkenhoff is the Midwest criminal justice reporter for USA Today Network. Follow him at @EricFerk

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Causes of death revealed for family, shooter in state park homicides