Hesston shooting victim recovering

Excel employee was shot four times — twice in chest

Mar 29, 2016 by and

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Adam Miller was back at work March 10 at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kan. It was the first day the lawnmower plant was operating after four people died and more than a dozen were injured in a Feb. 25 shooting.

Adam Miller, an Excel Industries employee, was shot twice in the chest and in the leg and arm.

Adam Miller, an Excel Industries employee, was shot twice in the chest and in the leg and arm. — Adam Miller

Miller, a member of Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro, was shot four times by fellow Excel employee Cedric Ford, who died while exchanging gunfire with law enforcement.

The 30-year-old returned to the facility for the first time March 9 with his wife, Nickie, on a day reserved for employees to process the setting after completion of cleaning and repairs. The couple was feeling well and talking with people until they arrived at the paint line where Ford had encountered Miller.

“Nickie and I had a pretty good cry; just standing there hugging each other,” he said. “It was good to get that out. I had the need to cry, but my body wouldn’t let that out.”

When Ford began working his way through the facility, randomly shooting workers, Miller heard people yelling “fire,” the code for an active shooter. But the code didn’t register for Miller, and he thought a real fire was burning. He saw Ford from behind.

“To me I just thought he was not quite understanding the situation,” he said. “He just looked at me with what the police call a thousand-yard stare — just looking through me, just in a zone.

“I told him we needed to get out. He didn’t respond, so I told him again. He said, ‘I know,’ and he pointed his gun at me.”

Four bullets from the AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle passed through his chest, leg and arm. Each hit tissue, missing bone, arteries and organs.

“I had an obvious hand of protection when it was going toward my chest. I don’t know how to describe it other than that,” Miller said. “I was facing him directly when he shot at me. He hit me in the chest first.

“It should have gone through my organs, but instead it went other directions.”

Miller ran away from Ford, turning around multiple corners so he wouldn’t have a straight shot. He later learned that Ford eventually switched from following him to exit the front door, where he killed two more people.

Miller eventually made his way out of the building to an ambulance, where he was rushed to a Wichita hospital in critical condition due to the chest wounds.

Five days later, he walked out of the hospital using a walker, and a couple of days later he switched to a cane he is still using.

“Other people have fared much worse,” he said. “Bones have been shattered. Lives have been lost.”

Willing to forgive

Lying in the hospital, Miller had time to reflect.

“I can’t say that I immediately forgave him. Maybe it came a couple of days later,” he said. “There was no hatred toward him. There was sorrow, and he must have been in so much pain.

“I just come to the conclusion that for all the things I’ve done in my life, God has forgiven me. So why can’t I forgive someone else?”

Miller’s upbringing laid the foundation for his response to the traumatic events of Feb. 25.

“I grew up in a Christian family,” he said, acknowledging that might not be the case for some of his coworkers. His father, Doug Miller, is professor of biblical and religious studies at Tabor College, an MB institution in Hillsboro. “I learned forgiveness, and God is all-powerful and can do anything, whether he chooses to or lets us go through trials and even lets us die. I’ve grown up with it and believe it wholeheartedly my whole life.”

For Miller, the saddest part of the ordeal is the loss of life, including that of the shooter. Hess­ton police chief Doug Schroeder, a member of Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church, fatally returned fire when he was the first law enforcement officer to encounter Ford.

Miller said Schroeder did what he had to do.

“My heart goes out to him, and anybody who puts themselves in that position willingly, because that’s an incredibly hard position to be in, knowing you might have to take someone’s life,” he said.

Newton MB congregation offers support

Sarah Jo Hopkins of Newton was arrested on federal charges Feb. 29 for allegedly providing Cedric Ford, a convicted felon, with two guns. Court documents indicate she gave the weapons to Ford, father of two children with her, because he threatened her.

When she appeared in federal court that day, Pastor Dave Froese of Koerner Heights Mennonite Breth­ren Church in Newton was present.

Christian Leader, the magazine of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, reports Hopkins began attending Koerner Heights worship and other events late last year. This encouraged some of her extended family members who already attended the church.

“Our church family wants to love on her,” Froese told Christian Leader. “We pray God will open the door for us to minister to her.”

Adam Miller said when he returned to Ebenfeld MB Church for the first time on March 6, prayers were offered in Sunday school and the worship service for Ford’s and Hopkins’ families.

“God knows her heart, and it’s just not for us in the general public to judge,” he said.

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