Crime & Courts

Hesston shooter’s body tests positive for meth, alcohol

In their own words: Kansas mass shooting and its aftermath

Survivors, victims' families and law enforcement tell of the deadly mass shooting at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas on Feb. 25, 2016. Video by John Albert/The Wichita Eagle
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Survivors, victims' families and law enforcement tell of the deadly mass shooting at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas on Feb. 25, 2016. Video by John Albert/The Wichita Eagle

On Feb. 25, Cedric Ford, 38, killed three people and injured others in a shooting spree that started along a highway near his home and ended inside Excel Industries in Hesston, where he worked. Ford was shot and killed by police.

Ford had been served a protection order from his girlfriend at work earlier that day.

The autopsy shows Ford was under the influence of high levels of methamphetamine and alcohol at the time of the mass shootings.

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What the drugs do

The combination of meth and alcohol can produce psychosis, delusions and an increased likelihood of acting on one’s impulses, according to an expert.

The toxicology report doesn’t have enough information to determine how long Ford had been using meth, according to Jonathan Lipman, a forensic examiner and professor of psychiatry at East Tennessee State who has testified in numerous trials as an expert in methamphetamine-induced behaviors.

Ford is estimated to have had more than 135 times a standard dose of methamphetamine in his system and had more than three times the legal level of alcohol for driving, according to Lipman. A standard dose of meth, when it used to be prescribed as an antidepressant by physicians, was 12.5 milligrams, he said.

The amount of time a person uses meth says more about a person’s intoxication level than the amount of drug in the system at any one time, Lipman said. But the level of meth in Ford’s blood was “very high,” Lipman said.

One symptom of meth use is insomnia, and users will often go days without sleeping before they crash. It can produce a psychosis like schizophrenia, Lipman said, including persecutory delusions and hallucinations. That means a user will hear and see things that aren’t there as well as feel as if something is crawling all over their body.

“The delusion can be very frightening, and the paranoia can be very dangerous because you feel that you are being attacked or pursued or threatened,” Lipman said. These are common symptoms, but Lipman said he couldn’t tell from the report what symptoms Ford was experiencing.

Meth users will often become so agitated that they’ll look for a depressant to counteract the meth, including alcohol, Lipman said. The alcohol and meth moderate some of the side effects of each drug separately, but the alcohol adds a symptom: an increased likelihood of impulsive, unrestrained actions.

“A person who has meth in their system and a high alcohol blood level may be functioning apparently behaviorally more sober than their blood level will indicate,” Lipman said. “That doesn’t mean that their judgment is any better.”

Ford had completed an anger management program in 2009 as part of a sentence in a disorderly conduct case. An official wrote in his report that Ford’s “persistence in thinking before acting will serve him well in the future.” Neighbors and friends said he had just had furniture delivered that week and was planning to attend a car show that weekend, signs that he may not have been planning his attack.

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A nearly empty bottle of vodka was still on the counter of his mobile home a day after the shooting. Ford’s autopsy listed him at 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds.

Methamphetamine tends also to have a strong, psychotic impact on people who already suffer from psychological mood disorders, Lipman said, and can often make someone suicidal, which also sometimes makes them homicidal. In the past, before ethics rules changed, one of the ways doctors diagnosed patients with mood disorders was by giving them meth and seeing whether they had a psychotic reaction.

A woman whom Ford lived with in Wichita described Ford as “alcoholic, violent, depressed” and “in desperate need of medical & psychological help” in a handwritten statement for her protection order. She said Ford grabbed her and put her in a chokehold on Feb. 5.

Some of Ford’s co-workers said he had told them he felt picked on at work.

On Feb. 25, after Ford was served the protection order at work, neighbors said they heard loud music playing in his mobile home and saw him throw a gun into his car and drive back in the direction of work as if “he was on a mission, determined.”

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How Ford died

The report concluded that Ford died from four gunshot wounds fired from a distance – one in the arm, back, chest and abdomen.

Doug Schroeder, the Hesston police chief and the first officer to arrive at Excel after the shooting, was hailed by the community as a hero for shooting Ford before he could kill and injure more people.

Ford’s body was brought to the Regional Forensic Science Center for Sedgwick County. The autopsy was conducted on Feb. 27, about one and half days after the shooting.

Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said the existence of methamphetamine was a concern. His department has not looked into where Ford may have obtained methamphetamine, Walton said.

He said he had not received a copy of the autopsy report as of Wednesday morning.

If someone stops using meth, it can cause deep depression, according to Lipman, which makes the user want to take more meth to get rid of the depression.

One friend noticed that Ford had posted “Nobody cares” on his Facebook page a few months before the shooting.

Ford had a number of tattoos, according to the autopsy report, including skulls, a chain and flames with the words “Life,” “Love” and the grim reaper; the word “Mob” with skeletons and marionettes; a tattoo with doves, an angel, a tree, flames and the word “Thug”; masks; and a tattoo on his back that read “Feel My Pain.”

Survivors, victims' families and law enforcement tell of the deadly mass shooting at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas on Feb. 25, 2016. Video by John Albert/The Wichita Eagle

Excel employee Jacob Hershberger describes being in the building in Hesston, Kansas, where a gunman started shooting. Hershberger saved a co-worker while fleeing for his life. (Video by Fernando Salazar)

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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