Crime & Courts

Sarah Jo Hopkins, accused of giving guns to Hesston shooter, appears in court

Sarah Jo Hopkins’ family members leave the Federal Courthouse in Wichita after learning that she will be released from custody. Hopkins was charged with giving guns to Cedric Ford that he used in a deadly shooting spree Thursday in Harvey County. (Feb. 29, 2014)
Sarah Jo Hopkins’ family members leave the Federal Courthouse in Wichita after learning that she will be released from custody. Hopkins was charged with giving guns to Cedric Ford that he used in a deadly shooting spree Thursday in Harvey County. (Feb. 29, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

The woman accused of giving guns to a man who killed three co-workers during a shooting spree in Harvey County last week won’t have to await the conclusion of her criminal case in jail.

A federal judge presiding over Sarah Jo Hopkins’ initial appearance Monday in federal court released the 28-year-old mother and child-care facility teacher on a $10,000 unsecured bond, saying she wouldn’t have to pay any money to a bondsman up front to get out of Sedgwick County Jail but could be liable for costs if she doesn’t follow the rules of her release.

Hopkins was charged Friday with transferring a firearm to a prohibited person — specifically Cedric Ford, the 38-year-old father of her children who opened fired at Hesston manufacturer Excel Industries late Thursday afternoon.

Authorities say she owns the .40-caliber semi-automatic Glock Model 22 and AK-47-style semi-automatic Zastava Serbia rifle found with Ford’s body after he was killed by law enforcement at the factory, and that she had given them to him at some point before the shooting. Excel Industries is at 200 S. Ridge Road in Hesston.

Ford was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms because he was a convicted felon, according to a law enforcement affidavit filed Friday in Hopkins’ case. Authorities say Hopkins was aware of his criminal history.

She told authorities she left the weapons with Ford after moving out of their Newton home last summer. She sought and received help from Newton police to retrieve them but returned them to Ford later because she claimed he threatened her, the affidavit says.

‘A good and loving mom’

Donna Voteau, senior pastor of Newton’s Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, in an interview after Monday’s hearing, said Hopkins and her family were shocked by the charge.

She described Hopkins as “a little reserved,” “very soft spoken” and “a good and loving mom” who attended her church sometimes with the 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son she shares with Ford. Ford, she said, only came once to drop off the children at a summer bible school program.

“She is the kindest person you ever want to meet. … I’ve always seen that side of her,” Voteau said of Hopkins.

Hopkins, she said, had been “keeping her distance” from Ford since the couple split in July 2015. Abuse had occurred in the relationship, she said.

“Sarah was away from Cedric for quite a while. She had moved out,” Voteau said, adding that the pair’s recent struggles had been over their children, who are being cared for by relatives in the wake of their father’s death and mother’s arrest.

I don’t want to divulge her confidences, but I don’t think any of us quite comprehend what abuse does and means in a relationship.

Donna Voteau, Sarah Hopkins’ pastor

“I don’t want to divulge her confidences, but I don’t think any of us quite comprehend what abuse does and means in a relationship,” Voteau said.

“To me, there’s a whole different take on this if people comprehend just what does abuse do.”

Court records in a paternity case filed last year in Harvey County paint an image of an on-again, off-again relationship between the couple between 2011 and 2015. The couple were not married, Voteau said.

According to the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, Hopkins bought both guns from A Pawn Shop in Newton in March 2014.

Hopkins, the affidavit says, pawned both guns sometime after buying them then retrieved the AK-47 on Feb. 5. It is unclear from the affidavit when she retrieved the .40-caliber Glock.

Voteau said Hopkins wasn’t a gun collector or enthusiast.

‘So many questions’

Ford killed three people and wounded 14 others Thursday in a shooting spree that started in Newton and ended at Excel. Harvey County authorities have said they think service of court papers filed by a woman seeking protection from abuse from Ford tipped off his rampage.

Hopkins wasn’t the woman who sought the court order.

Ford was shot and killed by law enforcement as he was heading into the plant.

Hopkins, who wore a white-and-gray striped shrug over a purple blouse and blue-jean capris in court, spoke quietly with her attorney Monday while she waited for the judge to take up her case. She smiled when several members of her family filed into the courtroom to watch the proceeding. Cuffs and shackles secured her wrists and ankles.

Hopkins said “Yes, sir” when U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale asked her whether she understood the charge and posed other questions routine for initial appearances in federal court.

When he asked whether she was under the care or treatment of a doctor, Hopkins said: “Yes, sir.”

“For what?”

“Anxiety,” she said softly. She also mentioned another condition she was receiving treatment for that wasn’t clearly heard by members of the gallery.

Gale then asked Hopkins whether she was taking any medications.

“Yes, sir,” she replied but did not elaborate.

One relative of Hopkins’, a woman, cried quietly into a tissue as the hearing progressed. Another woman who sat behind her reached forward and touched her shoulder. Hopkins’ father, mother and sister were among family members in the courtroom.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst during the hearing said the government was not asking for Hopkins to remain jailed for the duration of her case. She did ask, however, that as a condition of bond, Hopkins turn over any other guns she has in her possession to ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The judge noted that the request was unusual, saying he orders defendants to surrender firearms as a matter of course.

Asked whether he objected to Furst’s request, Hopkins’ attorney, Doug Adams, said no because “she doesn’t have any more.”

Adams wouldn’t comment after Monday’s hearing.

At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, Hopkins’ relatives gathered in a hallway outside of the courtroom. They shared a lengthy, tearful group embrace and prayer.

They would not speak with reporters.

Voteau, the Trinity Heights pastor, said that “all of this has taken them by surprise.”

I think they’re holding up. I think there’s a lot of questions as to how does this end? What does this look like? There’s just so many questions in this.

Donna Voteau, Sarah Hopkins’ pastor, on Hopkins’ family

“I think they’re holding up. I think there’s a lot of questions as to how does this end? What does this look like?” she said. “There’s just so many questions in this.”

Hopkins is due back in federal court for a preliminary hearing in her case on March 9. But that hearing would be canceled if a grand jury decides to indict Hopkins.

Adams, the defense attorney, said during Hopkins’ hearing that the grand jury was supposed to convene Tuesday to review the case. Hopkins has not yet had an opportunity to enter a not-guilty plea in the case.

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

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