Crime & Courts

Woman charged with giving guns to Hesston shooter

VIDEO: Sgt. Chris Carter responds to scene of Hesston mass shooting

Sgt. Chris Carter describes responding to Excel Industries Thursday afternoon and evacuating the injured workers after Cedric Ford shot and killed three people and more than a dozen others at the lawnmower manufacturing plant. (Bo Rader/kansas.com
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Sgt. Chris Carter describes responding to Excel Industries Thursday afternoon and evacuating the injured workers after Cedric Ford shot and killed three people and more than a dozen others at the lawnmower manufacturing plant. (Bo Rader/kansas.com

A Newton woman is facing a federal charge after authorities said she is suspected of giving Cedric Ford the two weapons he used to shoot 17 people in Hesston on Thursday.

Sarah Jo Hopkins, 28, is the mother of Ford’s 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, according to court records obtained by The Eagle on Friday afternoon. She was charged with one count of knowingly transferring a firearm to a convicted felon, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in an e-mailed news release Friday.

Hopkins is not the woman who filed for the protection order served to Ford at Excel Industries the day of the shooting.

An affidavit filed in the case alleges Hopkins knew of Ford’s criminal history – or had reason to think he had one – including his felony convictions, which barred him from possessing firearms.

She is accused in the document of giving him the Zastava Serbia AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle and the Glock Model 22 .40-caliber handgun he was carrying when he embarked on Thursday’s shooting spree.

Ford was shot and killed by Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder after opening fire after 5 p.m. Thursday at Hesston lawn-care equipment factory Excel Industries, where he worked as a painter. The shooting left three others dead and 14 people wounded.

According to the affidavit, Hopkins said during an interview with law enforcement Friday that she:

▪ Was in a relationship with Ford and lived with him in Newton for period of time

▪ Bought both weapons at A Pawn Shop, 519 N. Main in Newton, in March 2014

▪ Moved out of their home in July 2015 but left the guns with Ford

▪ Retrieved the guns from the house with help of Newton Police less than a month later “because she had purchased the weapons and they belonged to her”

▪ Gave the guns back to Ford later that month “because Ford had threatened her.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who wrote the affidavit also said in the document he spoke Friday with the Newton police officers who helped retrieved the two guns with Hopkins. They said Hopkins, at the time, told them Ford was a convicted felon and that barred him from possessing them, the affidavit said.

The special agent also interviewed an employee of A Pawn Shop who said that after Hopkins bought the weapons, she placed them back in pawn. According to the affidavit, she paid the fee on the Zastava Serbia AK-47 and retrieved it on Feb. 5 – 20 days before Ford’s shooting spree. The affidavit didn’t make clear when the Glock was taken out of pawn.

A man who answered the door at Hopkins’ address in Newton on Friday afternoon confirmed that she lived at the house but said she was not home at the time.

He shook his head and said “I don’t want to talk to you” when an Eagle reporter introduced herself. He then shut the door.

Attempts to contact Hopkins by phone Friday were unsuccessful.

Hopkins was booked into Sedgwick County Jail at 5:38 p.m. Friday, an online roster of inmates shows, and is being held without bond.

Grissom said Hopkins faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 if she’s convicted.

Hopkins, on an online resume, says she works as a teacher for an area child-care facility. She is also a former Excel Industries employee, the resume says.

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

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