Ninety minutes before he opened fire in central Kansas, Cedric Ford got served a restraining order — an act a local sheriff thinks led him to kill three people and wound 14 others.
“I believe that probably is the trigger, and it went from there,” Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said Friday.
Walton said that Ford was “a little upset” but “didn’t display anything … outrageous” when a sheriff’s deputy served him the order at 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) Thursday at his workplace, Excel Industries in Hesston. The court order commanded Ford to stay from his former girlfriend, who claimed he abused her.
Then came a call to police, around 5 p.m., that a man driving his two children had been shot in the shoulder in nearby Newton. Another call came in a short time later about someone who’d been driven off the road into a ditch, been shot, and had his or her car stolen, according to Walton.
While authorities responded at these sites — having no idea where the shooter was heading next — Ford went to Excel, the lawn care equipment manufacturer about 6 miles from the first shooting scene.
The 38-year-old started firing in the parking lot, wounding one person, then kept it up as he went inside.
“He was randomly shooting people,” the Harvey County sheriff said. “… I’m not aware he said a thing.”
The carnage ended thanks to a lone Hesston police officer who went inside, engaged Ford in gunfire and killed him around 5:24 p.m., according to Walton.
“There was probably 2 or 300 more people in that building while this was going on,” the sheriff said. “This man was not going to stop shooting.
“The only reason he stopped shooting was because that officer stopped (him).”
Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder was the officer who shot and killed Ford, department administrative assistant Jeannine Hoheisel said. According to Schroeder’s Linkedin profile, he has been Hesston’s chief for 18 years.
Schroeder was unavailable for comment, she said.
Walton said Friday that the three people killed inside Excel Industries were Renee Benjamin, 30, Joshua Higbee, 31, and Brian Sadowsky, 44.
A Newton woman was charged Friday with giving two weapons found at the scene to Ford, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.
Sarah T. Hopkins, 28, was charged with one count of knowingly transferring a firearm to a convicted felon, Grissom announced.
A criminal complaint identified the weapons as a Zastava Serbia semiautomatic rifle — an AK-47-style gun — and a Glock 22 40-caliber pistol.
The complaint says the woman and Ford had a relationship at one point and she gave him the guns in August.
Online records showed Hopkins was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail on Friday evening.
Co-worker remembers shooter as ‘a mellow guy’
So far, authorities haven’t shed much light on Ford’s specific motivation. The order against him was filed in Wichita, but Walton did not detail why or who filed it, beyond that the filer wasn’t working at Excel.
The shooter had previous run-ins with the law, with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office noting that he’d been arrested twice in that South Florida county — in 2000 for car break-ins and in 2004 for parole violations.
As to his encounters with law enforcement in Kansas, Walton said briefly, “He’s been in my jail a couple of times before.”
Yet one of his Excel co-workers, Matt Jarrell, described Ford as “a quiet guy” and someone he could talk to about personal and private matters
That’s why Jarrell was taken aback seeing his co-worker — whom he’d been talking casually with earlier Thursday about Ford’s new truck — pull up later in a different truck, park and fling open the door.
“At first thought he was just showing off shooting (one of his guns) in the air. My friend, he was like, “Go! Go! Go! He’s shooting! He’s shooting!” said Jarrell, who was on break when the shooting started.
Jarrell was in his truck and drove away as quickly as he could.
But before he did, Jarrell saw the shooter smiling, like he was happy, as he fired off rounds.
“It’s a picture I’m never going to get out of my head,” Jarrell said.
Responding officer calls scene ‘overwhelming’
Ford burst into the Excel building alone, the Harvey County sheriff said.
Another Excel employee, identified as Dylan by CNN affiliate KSNW, rubbed blood from his hands — which came from helping a man who’d been shot — as he recalled the chaotic, horrific scene.
“We heard a pop, pop, and we thought it was just metal falling on the ground, and then the doors opened, people started screaming, coming out,” he said. “We really didn’t know what was going on.”
As the police chief who took down Ford went inside, other law enforcement officers and emergency medical workers quickly converged on the site.
Sgt. Chris Carter was among them. He lauded Excel employees who pointed authorities in the direction of the wounded, including one he took to a hospital in his pickup truck.
The whole scene was “overwhelming,” Carter told reporters Friday, “but we’re on autopilot.”
“We do our job, we do our job,” he added. “That’s it. That’s all I did.”
Sheriff: It’ll take time to ‘piece together the full story’
After Thursday’s chaos, Friday was time to find answers, to recover, to grieve in this small town of 3,700 people about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of Wichita.
“You think you’re safe at work and you’re not,” a choked-up witness told CNN affiliate KWCH from outside the shooting site, where many cried and hugged. “It’s just scary.”
The Harvey County Sheriff’s Office initially said 14 people had been wounded, 10 of them critically. FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson said investigators had spoken with 11 of the 14 wounded victims.
Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita had seven shooting-related patients: one in critical condition, two in serious and four in fair condition Friday, spokeswoman Roz Hutchinson said. Three of the four being treated at Wesley Medical Center are in serious condition and the other is in fair condition, said Susan Burchill, the spokeswoman there.
Newton Medical Center had received six patients, five of whom had been released by Friday evening. The other had been transferred and was one of the four patients at Wesley.
It is unclear if the 16 patients all suffered gunshots wounds or were otherwise injured.
As their recovery continues, so does the law enforcement investigation.
That included a stop at Ford’s mobile home in Newton, which authorities thought was occupied when they heard loud music from inside, only to break in and learn it was empty. Authorities are looking there, taking photographs and other evidence from the shooting scenes, and conducting “a lot of interviews” in Harvey County and Wichita to get to the bottom of this nightmare.
“We want to piece together the full story (of) what happened,” Walton said. “And that’s going to take some time.”
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Dana Ford, Tina Burnside, Carma Hassan, Laura Koran, Keith Allen, Melanie Whitley, Dani Stewart, Andy Rose, Shane Deitert, Braden Walker and Jose Diaz contributed to this report.