Officials: 2 staff killed by inmates at Iowa prison were 'heroes'

CO McFarland and Nurse Schulte sounded the alarm during the attack, helping to keep others safe, officials said

By Erin Jordan
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

ANAMOSA, Iowa — Two Linn County residents — one a husband, father and volunteer firefighter and the other a nurse, gardener and aunt — are being remembered for taking heroic actions in a brutal attack that claimed their lives Tuesday at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Correctional Officer Robert McFarland, 46, of Ely, and registered nurse Lorena Schulte, 50, of Cedar Rapids, were bludgeoned to death by two inmates in a failed attempt to escape, investigators said.

The suspects, Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39, each have been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and attempted murder. They made their initial court appearances Thursday afternoon through a virtual hearing from the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, where they were transferred after the grisly attack.

McFarland, who had a wife and three children, worked as a correctional officer at the prison since 2008 and volunteered with the Ely Fire Department since 2017, Chief Aaron Cooper said.

"Robert was selfless," Cooper said. "We kind of joked that the fire department was his second home. His family knew it, we knew it."

As a volunteer in the department with 28 firefighters, McFarland would use spare time to write reports, charge battery-powered equipment, maintain gas monitors and organize the fittings and hoses for the fire trucks, Cooper said. It doesn't surprise Cooper that investigators said McFarland and Schulte were "heroes" for sounding an alarm Tuesday, likely preventing Dutcher and Woodard from harming Lorie Mathes, a prison employee the men briefly took hostage.

"That's just the kind of person he was," Cooper said of McFarland. "He was always doing what he could to make things better."

Cooper said he's been talking with McFarland's family, who, so far, has not wanted to talk with reporters. Memorial plans still are undecided.

Schulte was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and was adopted and brought to the United States in 1982, according to her obituary.

She graduated from the former Regis High School and got degrees in criminal justice and nursing from Kirkwood Community College. Before going to work as nurse at the prison in 2007, Schulte worked at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, according to her Facebook profile.

"She had a green thumb, was a lifelong learner, and enjoyed cooking," her obituary says. "Lorena had fun trying out new recipes on her family. She loved being an aunt and was beloved in return. Lorena will be deeply missed."

Tuesday's attack started about 10 a.m., when Woodard and Dutcher went to the prison infirmary under the pretense of fixing something, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Rick Rahn said Wednesday.

The men had hammers and a metal grinder checked out from the prison maintenance area and were being supervised by McFarland.

At some point, they rushed into an employee break room off the infirmary and used the hammers to break the glass on a window, Rahn said. They tried to use the grinder to cut through the metal bars on the windows, but failed. They used the hammers to strike Schulte and McFarland in the head and also struck another inmate, McKinley Roby, who was trying to help the staff.

Roby's skull was fractured and he was transported to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where he is stable, Corrections officials said.

Rahn said Thursday investigators do not believe anyone else was involved in the escape attempt, including other inmates or anyone outside the prison. He declined to answer other questions about the ongoing probe, including whether there was video of the assault or how McFarland and Schulte raised the alarm.

Corrections officials did not respond to emails or a phone call Thursday.

Rahn said it's helpful to have Woodard and Dutcher in custody.

"It is easier when we know where our suspects are located," he said. "We don't have to spend as much manpower and resources to track an individual."

Rahn said there are some unique things about investigating a crime in a prison, such as security protocols around the building and access to inmates for interviews.

Dutcher has been incarcerated since 2015 and was serving 50 years for robbing a Holstein bank and two Sioux City motels, according to Rahn and news reports. Woodard entered the prison in 2017 on robbery and burglary charges stemming from a 2014 Sioux City home invasion, the Sioux City Journal reported.

Jones County Magistrate Kristin Denniger Thursday read through the new charges, to which Dutcher quietly answered "yes" or "yeah" to say he understood. Denniger ordered both men held without bail, which is not surprising since they already were incarcerated, but she added this:

"I find that the nature of the charge, the seriousness of the charge, the fact that you're already incarcerated at the time of the charge and the risk of escape are too great to set a bond."

Denniger assigned the Public Defender to represent Woodard and Linn County Advocate to represent Dutcher.

(c)2021 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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