From the time he was a young child, Josh Higbee was “Mr. Fix-It,” his brother says.
“He loved tractors and toy cars, anything automotive. He was a car guy,” said Nathaniel Hinson, Higbee’s older brother. “He liked to work with his hands.”
Higbee, 31, was one of three people killed Thursday when a man opened fire at the Excel Industries plant in Hesston, where Higbee worked as a welder.
Also killed, according to family members and law enforcement officials, were Renee Benjamin, 30, and Brian Sadowsky, 44. Both were Excel employees.
Never miss a local story.
People who knew Higbee say he was a loving, hardworking man who loved to fish and spend time with his fiancee and his 4-year-old son.
“He was wonderful,” said Subrina Luke, Higbee’s fiancee. “He didn’t deserve this. None of the people deserved this.”
Higbee was born June 10, 1984, and was adopted into the Hinson family at age 2. He attended Colvin Elementary School and Curtis Middle School and graduated from Buhler High School in 2002, family members said.
“He was taught to be a very loving, kind man. He has a son that he adores, takes care of,” said Lashonda Hinson, Higbee’s sister-in-law. “Josh would give you the shirt off his back and worked long, hard hours to take care of his family.
“Just an outstanding man.”
Family members gathered in a home on South Clifton in Wichita to pray and mourn with their pastor, Dylan Ector, senior pastor of Tree of Life Church.
“It’s God’s strength that they’re operating out of. We’ve just got to keep on just praying for each other,” Ector said.
“There’s really nothing you can say. I’m a preacher, and I don’t know what to say.”
Teairra Sparks, an employee at the Casey’s General Store along U.S. 81 near the Excel Industries complex, said she knows many of the Excel employees because they come in regularly.
Higbee came in every day during the 7 p.m. lunch rush for second-shift workers, she said.
“(Josh) was always so grumpy when he came,” Sparks said. “I’d tell him to smile, and he’d come back the next day with a big smile on his face.”
Lashonda Hinson said family members knew Higbee was working at the plant in Hesston on Thursday afternoon and feared the worst when they didn’t hear from him after news broke about the mass shooting.
At about 1 a.m. on Friday, law enforcement officers visited Higbee’s home and told family members he had been killed, she said.
“You hear ‘four people,’ and you would think that within the four people that it just wouldn’t be him,” she said.
“We don’t understand, but we know without a doubt that the last thing Josh probably thought about was his wife-to-be and his son. We’re pretty sure of that.”
Ector, the pastor, said Thursday’s shooting is upsetting, but he hopes community members will come together to support victims and their families and work toward a solution to senseless violence.
“I am so mad. I am so tired of death. I am so tired of people giving in to certain spirits,” Ector said.
“Hopefully something good will come of this, where we can put our heads together and kind of change.”
Renee Benjamin, 30, was a “free spirit” who loved to cook, loved Colorado and loved her friends and family, said her girlfriend, Dominique Woods.
“She is a person who always gave her all into whatever she did and whoever she loved,” Woods said Friday.
“She was so smart, but shy about it. She was so funny, so beautiful, inside and out. She was my best friend. We shared everything. We shared a life. … All she wanted was to love and be loved.”
Woods, who said she had been dating Benjamin for three years, said she “had a beautiful spirit” and was avid about natural remedies to treat ailments. She said she hopes Benjamin will be remembered as more than just a victim of a tragic shooting.
“She needed to know that people loved her, and we all did. We all do,” Woods said. “People see this beautiful woman that lost her life, and I see and know the story and legacy she’s left.”
Melissa Boyer said she was one of Benjamin’s co-workers at Excel and considered her a close friend.
Benjamin lived with Boyer for a few weeks when she was “going through a rough time,” Boyer said.
“She always made me laugh,” Boyer said. “She was always happy all the time, and she had this love.”
A ‘rare breed’
Tom Dolan, a friend of Brian Sadowsky’s, described the 44-year-old as “an all-around great person” who loved his wife, music and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He had a lot of compassion for people but also was the type of person that didn’t put up with” nonsense, Dolan said. “If you tried to give him any, he would smother you in facts.”
Sadowsky will be missed, Dolan added.
“He was a rare breed, because he was truly genuine.”
Dennis Britton Sr., a team leader in Excel’s weld shop, said he had gotten to know Sadowsky on a personal level the past few years.
“I served on the safety committee with him five or six years,” he said. “He was a real nice guy, pretty quiet.”
Sadowsky was the first person Roy Workman said he got to know when he was employed at Excel.
“He was awesome,” Workman said. “Him and I hung around even after work.
“It’s just, I can’t believe this.”
Contributing: Bryan Horwath, Gabriella Dunn and Matt Riedl of The Eagle