Investigators said Friday that the gunman who opened fire at a Kansas factory where he worked received a court order 90 minutes before the rampage and obtained the two weapons used in the attack from a friend.
Sarah Hopkins, 28, of Newton, Kan., is charged with one count of knowingly transferring a firearm to a convicted felon. Prosecutors allege Hopkins, a friend of Cedric Ford, knew about his criminal history before giving him the semi-automatic rifle and handgun he used in the rampage that left 3 dead and 14 others wounded.
The Wichita Eagle reported Hopkins is the mother of Ford's two children. She moved out of her home with Ford in July and retrieved the guns from the house less than a month later with the help of police, the Eagle reported, citing an affidavit in the case. Shortly thereafter, Hopkins gave the guns back to Ford "because Ford had threatened her," the paper reported.
Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said Friday that his office served Ford, 38, with the protection-from-abuse order at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and the move is likely was set off killing spree. Such orders are typically served "because there's some type of violence in a relationship," he added.
Ford worked at Excel Industries, a plant in Hesston that makes lawn-mower products. The dead were all killed inside the building, and were chosen at random, Walton said.
Speaking by phone to Hesston Mayor David Kauffman on Friday, President Obama “offered his condolences to the loved ones of those who were lost and his gratitude to police officer and other first responders who acted quickly to save lives," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Ford was accused of assault by a woman who identified herself in Sedgwick County court records as his live-in girlfriend, according to TheWichita Eagle.
The woman, in a written petition for protection from abuse that was filed Feb. 5, said Ford “placed me in a choke hold from behind – I couldn’t breathe.”
“He is an alcoholic, violent, depressed,” she wrote in her petition, in capital letters, according to the Wichita Eagle. “It’s my belief he is in desperate need of medical & psychological help!”
Walton said Ford was upset when he received the protective order at work, but that recipients are often upset in those circumstances.
“He didn’t display anything that was outrageous," Walton said. “He just displayed that he was upset with this order."
The shootings began about 5 p.m. as the gunman drove toward the plant. He opened fire and shot a man in another car, wounding him in the shoulder. Another person was shot in the leg at an intersection a short time later. The gunman was firing a .223-caliber long gun and also had a pistol, Walton said.
Hesston Police Department Sgt. Chris Carter was off-duty when the shooting began but was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene. Walton called him a "hero" for loading one of the victims, who had been shot in the parking lot, into his pickup to get him help.
“What crossed my mind was finding the bad buy, protecting everyone else who was there," Carter said told reporters about arriving at the plant where some of his relatives work. “Overwhelming. But we’re on auto-pilot. We’re trained for these. We just do what we’re trained to do."
Eleven of the wounded were taken to two Wichita hospitals, Via Christi Hospital St. Francis and Wesley Medical Center, where one was in critical condition, five in serious condition and five in fair condition Friday morning, hospital officials told the Associated Press. The others were taken to a hospital in nearby Newton, and their conditions were not immediately available, according to AP.
Walton said there were about four or five crime scenes in Newton, Harvey County and Excel. Police killed the suspect when he began firing on officers. The shooter was dead by 5:23 p.m. Walton described the officer who took him down as “a hero as far as I’m concerned.”
Police were interviewing 200 people in connection with the case. The FBI; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; state highway patrol; Harvey County sheriff’s office; Hesston and Newton police are all investigating, Walton said.
“I heard some popping noises, but I thought it was just a drill,” Tim Kasper, a laser operator at Excel, told The Kansas City Star. “Then I heard a three-round burst, and I knew it was something real,” he added.
“I got out of there quick. People were running and panicking. It was chaos.”
Public records show Ford has several previous offenses in Florida over the last decade, including burglary, grand theft and fleeing from an officer, according to AP. Online records show he was released from the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in February 2007, AP said.
In Kansas, he had a misdemeanor conviction in a 2008 fighting or brawling case and various traffic violations from 2014 and 2015, according to AP.
Law enforcement vehicles surrounded the suspect’s home in a trailer park in Newton later Thursday night. The Harvey County Sheriff’s Department initially said they believed the suspect’s roommate could be inside but authorities later said no one was there.
Paul Mullet, the president and CEO of Excel Industries, confirmed the gunman worked at the firm, KAKE reported.
“We’re really saddened by this horrific event and our heart goes out to all of our employees, all the families whose loved ones got injured or killed, and we’re going to do what we can to take care of them and bring them through this tragedy,” he said, according to the broadcaster.
The company employs 1,000 people and about 150 of them were on the job at the time, according to Walton. Hesston is about 36 miles northwest of Wichita.
Excel Industries is a family-owned business founded in 1960, according to The Kansas City Star. The company is a leading maker of turf-care products and distributes its mowing products through Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mower product lines, according to the company's website.