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After Church Shooting, Iowa Pastor Tells Stunned Flock: ‘God is Near To the Broken-Hearted’

By Bob Smietana
iowa church shooting
People console each other after a shooting at Cornerstone Church on Thursday, June 2, 2022 in Ames, Iowa. Two people and a shooter died Thursday night in a shooting outside a church in Ames, authorities said. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/The Des Moines Register via AP)

At a Friday morning prayer service, stunned and shattered worshippers gathered to weep, pray, sing and mourn two young women killed at an Iowa church.

The service was hours after a fatal shooting in the parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State University. The shooting occurred on the night of the first summer gathering of the Salt Company, a ministry for college students. About 80 students were at the church that night.

Church leaders did not identify the women who were killed, citing the ongoing investigation.

“But I want you to know, even though people aren’t named, it’s not because they’re not known,” Mark Vance, lead pastor of Cornerstone, told mourners during the livestreamed prayer service.

“They’re known. They’re loved and treasured, and that’s why there are tears and there’s grief.”

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Vance began the service with a prayer and readings from the Bible, with hymns like “It Is Well With My Soul” mixed in.

“Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the brokenhearted,” Vance said. “So that might mean that maybe this is the room that God’s closest to in the world right now. Because we’re brokenhearted.”

Mark Vance, lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Ames, IA . (Screengrab from service)

After Vance spoke, a man who was identified as the father of one of the shooting victims stood up to speak on stage, saying his daughter “walked the walk” in living out her faith.

“I’m proud to have been her father,” he said.

About 1,300 students attend a weekday worship service at Cornerstone, according to a history on the Salt Company’s website. The ministry grew out of an Iowa State student ministry, which became so large that it led to the founding of Cornerstone in the 1990s. The church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Salt Company is also connected to a church-planting group called the Salt Network, which partners with the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

During the service, Troy Nesbitt, Cornerstone’s founding pastor, read from several Bible verses about grieving, including John 11:35, which reads simply, “Jesus wept.” He also read a familiar passage from the Book of Revelation, often read at funerals.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” Nesbitt read. “Death will be no more.”

Before leading the congregation in prayer, Nesbitt tried to give words of comfort, at times nearly overcome with grief.

“Life is so short,” he said. “And death is so hard, but it is not final.”

On Friday, the Des Moines Register identified the shooting victims as 21-year-old Vivian Renee Flores and 22-year-old Eden Mariah Montang. The 33-year-old alleged shooter died from “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” according to the Register.

The two Iowa State students had been walking to the church when the shooter pulled up in a pickup truck to Montang, Flores and another woman just before 7 p.m. Thursday outside Cornerstone Church and began shooting with a 9 mm handgun, investigators said Friday. 

The shooter had been romantically involved with Montang and faced a court hearing next week on a charge of harassing her, investigators said. Investigators said they found in his truck 9 mm ammunition and a receipt from a West Des Moines store that showed he bought the ammunition an hour before the shooting.

iowa cornerstone church shooting
Sol Rexius, director of the Salt Company. (Screengrab from service)

In a statement posted on the church website, leaders of Cornerstone said they are cooperating with law enforcement officials in the investigation.

“Our hearts break for all involved, and we are praying for everyone affected, especially the family of the victims,” the statement read. “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.” 

The Iowa church shooting comes during a wave of gun violence in the United States. On May 14, 10 people were shot and killed in a Buffalo grocery store; one person was killed and others wounded on May 16 at a Los Angeles church; 21 people, including 19 children, were killed on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas; four people were killed in a shooting at a Tulsa medical building on June 1.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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9 Responses

  1. Another Armed Citizen/psycho.
    Many Legislators who are Pro-Life, also VOTE pro-gun. Call them and point out that when you voted pro-life you did not also sign on for a constant Gunfight at the OK Corral, in a Church parking lot. Threaten a primary. (It works for the NRA and other gun groups.)
    Florida–whose Legislature is very conservative–enacted common-sense Gun Safety laws. Your State can too.
    Florida cops have taken away 6,000 guns since 2018 under Florida’s Red Flag law. (This often prevented the sin of suicide.) GOP Legislators will respond to you. Please do not only grieve and pray. Act.

    1. Cities like Chicago have shown that banning guns takes guns from those who follow the law but has no impact on those who don’t follow the law. These laws do nothing to change the hearts of those who wish to kill and who understand that there is more than one tool available for the job. Think OKC bombing, Boston Marathon bombing.

      1. Can we please stop using Chicago as a punchline? I hate how “but what about Chicago” is thrown around by people who have done little research on what goes on here – and TRULY don’t care to do anything to help.

        Here’s some info: a big issue with Chicago is that adjacent states have more lax gun laws. Recently there was a huge bust of guns being illegally shipped in from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee – all places with WAY more relaxed gun laws (and parts of Indiana are deemed to be part of the Chicagoland area).

        We have to be the UNITED states of America about gun laws, or else it will keep happening.

      2. Above 80% of school shooters had no meaningful relationship with their fathers. We need to discuss gun laws and types of weapons but without addressing the question of fatherlessness we will continue to find ourselves at the scant mercy of angry, rootless young men.

        There used to be marksmanship classes in high schools in our country. It used to be the case that young men brought their guns to school in case they had opportunity to get some game on the way home. What has changed profoundly in our country is not so much gun availability but rather families.

        1. @Jennifer –
          I completely agree that families are a big part of it. HOWEVER, you cannot legislate families. You cannot legislate attitudes. You cannot legislate faith.
          We CAN legislate gun availability. Bad family structure + easy access to guns (due to inconsistent laws, etc) = DISASTER. Let’s try to control at least part of the equation.

          1. @Marin Totally agree that healthy families cannot be legislated into existence, but public policy can help support (rather than undermining) the family. I would like to believe that gun availability can be controlled but, in light of gin availability during Prohibition, I’m skeptical. Something is terribly wrong with the way we raise children here–legislation just doesn’t have the power to fix that.

  2. I always am saddened to hear of people dying due to the violent/evil actions of other people. As society rapidly becomes more intrinsically evil (part of the intentional plan for America’s internal moral downfall like Rome), it’s not rational/reasonable to expect the root answer lies in passing more laws. It’s refreshing to see more people awaken to this fact even among people who do not claim to love Christ. The overwhelming percentage of people in power are not righteous people whatsoever.

    If people want to act (responsibly), then it would greatly behoove everyone to listen to this profound message given by a child psychiatrist in LA about how fear keeps people from thinking rationally.

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    H. L. Mencken

  3. Sounds like the pastor did exactly what pastors are supposed to do in this situation. But there will be people who will find fault with him and what he said.

  4. It’s a lamentable fact that mass shootings is a norm in our country. Whether your pro gun or not we need to amend our restrictions and must be uniform nationwide. We don’t complain about background checks for jobs and apartments but somehow in some states you don’t need one to purchase a gun. If you cannot abide by the laws you cannot have a gun.

    Schools and churches supposed to be safe places. We the church must not tolerate these horrible actions

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