HESSTON, Kan. — A man who stormed into a Kansas factory and shot 14 people, killing three, had just been served with a protective order involving a former girlfriend that probably set off the attack, authorities said Friday.
The assault at the Excel Industries lawnmower-parts plant in the small town of Hesston ended when the police chief killed the gunman in a shootout.
Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton described the officer as a "tremendous hero" because 200 or 300 people were still in the factory and the "shooter wasn't done by any means."
Had the officer "not done what he did, this would be a whole lot more tragic," Walton said.
The gunman was identified as Cedric Ford, a 38-year-old worker at the factory. As a convicted felon, he was prohibited from owning any kind of firearm. A woman was charged with supplying him with an assault rifle and a pistol.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said preliminary information indicated that the officer was Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, who did not wait for backup and "seized the situation."
Schroeder has been on the job since 1998, according to his LinkedIn profile.
While driving to the factory, the gunman shot a man on the street, striking him in the shoulder. A short time later, he shot someone else in the leg at an intersection, authorities said.
The suspect shot one person in the factory parking lot before opening fire inside the building, the sheriff's department said.
Ford had several convictions in Florida over the last decade. His past offenses included burglary, grand theft, fleeing from an officer, aggravated fleeing and carrying a concealed weapon, all from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Ford also had criminal cases in Harvey County, including a misdemeanor conviction in 2008 for fighting and various traffic violations from 2014 and 2015.
A Facebook page under the name of a Cedric Ford employed at Excel includes photos posted within the past month of a man posing with a long gun and another of a handgun in a man's lap in a car. Federal law bars felons from possessing firearms.
Recent posts also include music videos of rappers from Miami, photos of cars and pictures posted in January of a trip to a zoo with children.
Sarah T. Hopkins, 28, was in jail awaiting a court appearance Monday on charges that she gave Ford a semi-automatic rifle similar to an AK-47 and a Glock .40-caliber handgun.
A call to a phone number listed for her was not answered. Court records did not indicate if she has an attorney.
According to an affidavit, Hopkins lived with Ford in nearby Newton before moving out in July. Newton police later met her at the home so she could retrieve the weapons, which she had purchased. Hopkins told officers on Friday that she gave the weapons to Ford in August because he had threatened her.
Hopkins and Ford had a 2-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, according to a report in the Eagle that cited a paternity case in Harvey County last year. She is not the same woman who sought the order of protection.
The shooting came less than a week after a man opened fire at several locations in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, leaving six people dead and two severely wounded. Authorities have not disclosed a possible motive in those attacks.
Walton said his office served the suspect with the protection-from-abuse order at around 3:30 p.m., about 90 minutes before the first shooting happened.
A judge issued a temporary order of protection earlier this month for a former girlfriend who said in her petition that Ford was a violent, depressed alcoholic.
"It's my belief he is in desperate need of medical and psychological help!" she wrote.
The ex-girlfriend, who indicated on court documents that she had lived with Ford, said the two were arguing on Feb. 5 when he grabbed her, placed her in a choke hold from behind and took her to the ground.
On Thursday, Ford left work early without explanation before returning hours later with a rifle, according to a co-worker.
Matt Jarrell said he and Ford worked "hand-in-hand" as painters on the second shift. He said Ford arrived as scheduled on Thursday but later disappeared and was not there to relieve him so that he could take a break.
Jarrell said someone else eventually spelled him and that he was sitting in his truck in the parking lot when he saw Ford drive up in a truck that wasn't his. He sped away when he saw Ford shoot someone and then enter the building.
Moments later, Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, heard people yelling to others to get out of the building, then heard popping and 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.
"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 said. "After he reloaded, he went inside the lobby in front of the building, and that is the last I seen him."
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.
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.
Hesston is a community of about 3,700 about 35 miles north of Wichita. Excel Industries was founded there in 1960 and manufactures Hustler and Big Dog mowing equipment.