4 dead in shootings at Hesston, Kan., business

Feb 26, 2016 by and

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This story has been updated with additional details.

Three people were killed and more than a dozen injured in a series of shootings Feb. 25 in Newton and Hesston, Kan., that culminated at a Mennonite-owned business in Hesston.

Hess­ton police chief Doug Schroeder, a member of Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, confronted the shooter and killed him when he returned fire.

Excel HesstonCedric Ford of Newton, a worker at Excel Industries in Hesston, killed three people inside Excel and wounded 14 others — at least five critically — before police chief Schroeder fatally shot him a little before 5:30 p.m.

Excel produces lawnmowers and is owned by the Mullet family. A Hesston Mennonite Church representative said Excel president and CEO Paul Mullet’s family has a long history with the congregation. His brother Bob is vice president at Excel and a member of Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston.

“The Excel family is deeply saddened by the horrific event that occurred yesterday,” Paul Mullet said in a statement Feb. 26. “Our hearts go out to our employees and families who are enduring this tragedy.”

Those who died were Renee Benjamin, 30; Josh Higbee, 31; Brian Sadowsky, 44; and the shooter, Cedric Ford. Sadowsky’s memorial service is 2 p.m. Friday at First Mennonite Church in Newton.

Hesston College was on lockdown for a little more than an hour, though Ford did not pass by the campus, located about four blocks away.

A Bible and candle sit on a table in the Hesston Mennonite Church library, where people gathered for prayer throughout the day Feb. 26 after the shootings at Excel Industries.

A Bible and candle sit on a table in the Hesston Mennonite Church library, where people gathered for prayer throughout the day Feb. 26 after the shootings at Excel Industries. — Paul Schrag/MWR

The campus community gathered the evening of Feb. 25 at Hesston Mennonite Church for an update from President Howard Keim, and a prayer ser­vice led by Keim and campus pastor Todd Lehman for the shooting victims, their families, the Excel community and the entire Hesston community.

A Hesston College news release noted a “long history of close friendship and partnership” between Excel and the college.

Close call in Newton

Ford shot and wounded two people in cars with an AK-47 type semi-automatic rifle in Newton before stealing a vehicle at the edge of town, driving to Hesston and shooting someone in the Excel parking lot.

Edna Bartel Decker, 74, a member of Hesston Mennonite Brethren Church, was the first to encounter Ford when the ordeal began in Newton. He forced her vehicle to stop and ordered her to get out. When she refused, he raised a gun and fired a shot at her windshield. She laid down on the seat, his shot exited the rear window, and she departed the scene in her vehicle when other vehicles came by.

“He probably thought he hit me, and that’s probably why he walked away,” she told MWR. “My body went flat, and he was aiming straight at my head. The bullet went through the windshield straight at my head.”

After checking for blood and not finding any, Decker sat up and saw him working with his gun. She said she drove her vehicle in reverse for about a hundred feet but was shaking too much, so she turned around and returned south through neighborhoods to lose him before parking at ­Koerner Heights Mennonite Brethren Church to call 911 and a family member.

“I almost felt guilty that I ­wasn’t injured. Does that sound crazy?” she said. “You survived and others didn’t. …

“I’ve asked God that, I really have. I’ve thanked him tremendously for his angels protecting me and him being there for me, but I’ve also said I was ready to go. Some others may not have been. But I’m a born-again Christian, and I know where I’m going.”

By Feb. 29, Wichita hospitals reported two patients remained in critical condition, another in serious condition, while others had been upgraded to fair.

How it could happen

Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said Ford was served a protection from abuse order Feb. 25 in the Excel plant. He said it was filed south of Harvey County in Sedgwick County. The Wichita Eagle reports it was filed by his live-in girlfriend, who accused him of assault and being “an alcoholic, violent, depressed. It’s my belief he is in desperate need of medical and physical help,” she wrote in her petition.

Walton said Ford got the order at 3:30 p.m., and “at 5 o’clock we get the first shooting. . . . They said he was upset, but nothing greater than anyone else who gets served a PFA.”

In addition to the rifle, Ford was also carrying a .40 caliber Glock handgun. Sarah Jo Hopkins of Newton, mother of two children with Ford, is facing federal charges of purchasing both weapons at a Newton pawn shop and transfering them to him. She is alleged to have known him to be a convicted felon.

Walton said chief Schroeder confronted Ford near Excel’s front office area.

“That particular officer is a hero in all of this. There were probably 200 more people in the building when this happened,” he said. “He was not going to stop shooting. He only stopped because that officer was there.”

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