Hearts broke along with the news Thursday night that someone had opened fire at Excel Industries in Hesston, killing and injuring what was then an unknown number of people after related shootings in Newton.
Suddenly, a part of the country accustomed to nature-made tragedies faced a terrifying man-made one.
The time since has provided some names and details, as well as stories of fear, heroism and sorrow.
The 38-year-old gunman, Cedric Ford, began his rampage about 90 minutes after he was served with a protection-from-abuse order at Excel, the lawn-mower manufacturer where he worked as a painter. If not for Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, who courageously entered the plant alone and confronted and killed Ford, the carnage surely would have been much worse.
Praise and thanks also go to the emergency responders from many agencies, with the key leadership of Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton, who so swiftly and professionally handled a frightening situation involving multiple crime scenes and dozens of witnesses. No doubt the training Walton’s deputies recently had for an active shooter situation proved invaluable.
Ford was “alcoholic, violent, depressed” and “in desperate need of medical and psychological help,” to quote his girlfriend’s request for a protection order.
What must change so that such a need can be met and innocent lives spared? What are we overlooking when it comes to countering domestic violence, safeguarding work- places and, yes, preventing disturbed individuals from targeting co-workers and strangers alike with high-powered firearms?
As yet there are no real answers for why such a horror had to happen at all, and add the Hesston deaths to the six in Kalamazoo, Mich.; the 14 in San Bernardino, Calif.; the 10 in Roseburg, Ore.; the nine in Charleston, S.C. – and on and on.
Excel Industries, a global company based in Hesston for five decades, is an employer crucial to its city, county and state. The extended community of south-central Kansas is in shock but also in solidarity.
What it can now confirm, amid grief, is that such shootings seem no less senseless up close than from a safe distance. Our prayers are with not only the victims and survivors of Thursday’s bloodshed, but also the next American city to be visited by a kind of violence that now seems both inexplicable and inevitable.