The man who killed two women before turning the gun on himself outside of an Ames church had previously been accused of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and had once been ordered to complete an anger management course, but was still able to legally own and carry firearms in the state.
Johnathan Lee Whitlatch, 33, of Boone used a 9mm handgun to shoot and kill Eden Mariah Montang, 22, and Vivian Renee Flores, 21, both students at Iowa State University, in the parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Ames on Thursday. He then shot and killed himself.
More ammunition was found in Whitlatch’s car, and an AR-15 rifle was found at his home, according to the Story County Sheriff’s Office. A receipt in his car showed he had just purchased extra ammunition hours before the shooting.
On Tuesday, two days before the homicides, Whitlatch was charged with harassment and impersonating a public figure, in relation to Montang and their recent breakup, according to the sheriff’s office. He was scheduled for a court appearance on those charges June 10.
It’s not the first time Whitlatch has been accused of a violent encounter with women:
In August of 2017, a woman in Wapello County with whom Whitlatch had a child filed a “petition for relief from domestic abuse” against Whitlatch, which included a no-contact order. That order was lifted a little over a month later when the case was dismissed. In conjunction with that, a judge also required Whitlatch to complete an anger management course in November of 2017.
On Oct. 21 of last year, Whitlatch was arrested at Deringer’s Parlor in Cedar Falls, accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the bar twice. He pled not guilty to a charge of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor under Iowa law. His jury trial was pushed back several times, and slated to begin in July.
Because Whitlatch had not been found guilty of any crime at the time of the murders, no law exists in Iowa today that prevented him from obtaining multiple guns and ammunition.
Prior to 2011, an Iowa sheriff was able to use their discretion to prevent someone like Whitlatch from getting a permit to carry a handgun based on his history. But the state legislature passed its “shall issue” law against the wishes of law enforcement, meaning sheriffs had to issue such permits unless expressly prohibited by law.
Even that proved too restrictive for Republicans: In 2021, Iowa got rid of the need for weapons permits entirely, leaving background checks at the sole discretion of gun sellers, not county sheriffs.
by Amie Rivers
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