Sheriff: Cop Who Killed Kansas Gunman a ‘Tremendous Hero’

HESSTON, Kan. (AP) -
Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton speaks at a Friday news conference at the Law Enforcement Center in Newton, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton speaks at a Friday news conference at the Law Enforcement Center in Newton, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

A man who wounded three people before storming into the central Kansas factory where he worked and shooting 15 others, killing three of them, had just been served a protection-from-abuse order that likely triggered the attack, a sheriff said Friday.

The attack Thursday evening at the Excel Industries lawnmower parts plant in Hesston ended when a police officer killed the attacker during a shootout, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said. At a press conference on Friday, he described the officer as a “tremendous hero” because there were still 200 or 300 other people in the factory and the “shooter wasn’t done by any means.”

“Had that Hesston officer not done what he did, this would be a whole lot more tragic,” Walton said.

The sheriff identified the gunman as Cedric Ford, a 38-year-old plant worker who had several convictions in Florida over the last decade, including for burglary, grand theft, fleeing from an officer, aggravated fleeing and carrying a concealed weapon, all from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Online records show that Ford was released from the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in February 2007. It was unclear from the public records whether he had completed probation.

According to the Wichita Eagle, Ford has also had criminal cases in Harvey County, Kansas, including a misdemeanor conviction in a 2008 fighting or brawling case and various traffic violations from 2014 and 2015.

Police guard the front door of Excel Industries in Hesston, Kan., after the shootings on Thursday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)
Police guard the front door of Excel Industries in Hesston, Kan., after the shootings on Thursday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Eleven of the people wounded in Thursday’s attack were taken to two Wichita hospitals, where one was in critical condition, five were in serious condition, and five were in fair condition Friday morning, hospital officials said. The others were taken to a hospital in Newton, Kan., and their conditions weren’t immediately available.

Walton said that his office served Ford with the protection-from-abuse order at around 3:30 p.m., about 90 minutes before the first shooting happened. He said that such orders are usually filed because there’s some type of violence in a relationship, but he didn’t disclose the nature of this particular relationship.

While driving to the factory, Ford shot a man on the street in the nearby town of Newton, striking him in the shoulder. A short time later, he shot someone else in the leg at an intersection.

“The shooter proceeded north to Excel Industries in Hesston, where one person was shot in the parking lot before he opened fire inside the building,” the department said in a release. “He was seen entering the building with an assault-style long gun.”

Walton said that Ford had an “assault-style” rifle and a pistol.

Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, was in the plant during the attack. He heard people yelling to others to get out of the building, then heard popping, then saw Ford, a co-worker he described as typically pretty calm.

Espinoza said Ford pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. At that point, Ford got a different gun and Espinoza ran.

“I took off running. He came outside after a few people, shot outside a few times, shot at the officers coming onto the scene at the moment and then reloaded in front of the company,” Espinoza told The Associated Press. “After he reloaded, he went inside the lobby in front of the building, and that is the last I seen him.”

A Hesston officer responding to the scene exchanged fire with Ford and killed him. The officer was not injured.

Erin McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the nearby city of Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities, but she wouldn’t elaborate.

Hesston, 35 miles north of Wichita, is a community of 3,700 residents.