A man who wounded three people before storming into the central Kansas factory where he worked and shooting 14 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. He described the officer, identified Friday as Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, as a "tremendous hero" because there were still 200 or 300 other people in the factory and that the "shooter wasn't done by any means."
"This man was not going to stop shooting," Walton said at a Friday morning briefing. "The only reason he stopped shooting is because the officer shot him."
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Friday called Schroeder a "hero" who didn't wait for backup before entering the Excel building.
"He went right in and did a heroic duty and service," Brownback said.
The sheriff identified the gunman as Cedric Ford, a 38-year-old plant worker who had several charges in Florida over the last decade, including for burglary, grand theft, carrying a concealed weapon, all from Broward and Miami-Dade counties. NBC 6 Miami has learned that Ford lived in Miramar and Miami Gardens.
His mother, Ruthie Mae Ford, lives in Homestead and was too distraught to speak on camera to NBC 6, but said she's, "Working through the idea of what happened."
According to the Wichita Eagle, Ford has also had criminal cases in Harvey County, including a misdemeanor conviction in a 2008 fighting or brawling case and various traffic violations from 2014 and 2015.
Walton said Ford had been in the local jail "a couple of times before."
The shooting came less than a week after authorities say a man opened fire at several locations in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, leaving six people dead and two severely wounded. Authorities haven't disclosed a possible motive in those attacks.
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 Newton hospital, and their conditions weren't immediately available.
Walton said his office served the suspect with the protection from abuse order at around 3:30 p.m., which was about 90 minutes before the first shooting happened. He said such orders are usually filed because there's some type of violence in a relationship, but he didn't disclose the nature of the relationship in question.
While driving to the factory, the gunman 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."
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 the shooter, a co-worker he described as typically pretty calm.
Espinoza said the shooter pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. At that point, the gunman 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."
Schroeder responded to the scene and exchanged fire with the shooter, killing him. He was not injured.
Walton said the attacker had an "assault-style" rifle and a pistol.
Dennis Britton Jr. suffered a fracture in his right leg when a bullet went through his buttocks and out his leg.
Britton's father, Dennis Britton Sr., who also works at the plant as a welding team leader, said his son was "awake and talking and communicating."
The son told his father that people initially mistook the gunshots for the sound of a gas fire. After hearing shouts, the younger Britton stepped out of a welding bay, heard a pop and "immediately went to the ground," his father said.
Authorities identified the dead as 44-year-old Brian Sadowsky of Newton; 31-year-old Josh Higbee of Buhler; and 30-year-old Renee Benjamin, whose hometown was unavailable.
Erin McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the nearby city of Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities. She wouldn't elaborate.
Hesston is a community of about 3,700 residents about 35 miles north of Wichita.
Excel Industries was founded there in 1960. The company manufactures Hustler and Big Dog mowing equipment and was awarded the Governor's Exporter of the Year award in 2013 from the Kansas Department of Commerce.