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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Police officer who killed Kansas gunman 'a tremendous hero'

Police guard the front door of Excel Industries following the gun rampage (The Wichita Eagle/AP)
Police guard the front door of Excel Industries following the gun rampage (The Wichita Eagle/AP)
Police train their guns on the car park at Excel Industries (The Wichita Eagle/ AP)

A man who stormed into a Kansas factory where he worked and shot 15 people, killing three, had just been served with a protective order that probably triggered the attack, authorities said.

The assault at the Excel Industries lawnmower parts plant in the small town of Hesston ended when a police officer killed the gunman in a shootout.

Harvey County sheriff T Walton described the officer as a "tremendous hero" because 200 to 300 people were still in the factory and the "shooter wasn't done by any means".

"Had that Hesston officer not done what he did, this would be a whole lot more tragic," Mr Walton said.

The sheriff identified the gunman as Cedric Ford, a 38-year-old plant worker who was armed with an assault rifle and a pistol.

While driving to the factory, the gunman shot a man on the street, striking him in the shoulder. A short time later, he shot someone else in the leg at an intersection, authorities said.

The suspect shot one person in the factory car park before opening fire inside the building, the sheriff's department said.

Ford had several convictions in Florida over the last decade. His past offences included burglary, grand theft, fleeing from an officer, aggravated fleeing and carrying a concealed weapon, all from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

According to the Wichita Eagle, Ford also had criminal cases in Harvey County, including a misdemeanour conviction in 2008 for fighting or brawling and various traffic violations from 2014 and 2015.

A Facebook page under the name of a Cedric Ford employed at Excel Industries includes photos posted within the past month of a man posing with a long gun and another of a handgun in a man's lap in a car. Recent posts also include music videos of rappers from Miami, photos of cars and pictures posted in January of a trip to a zoo with children.

The shooting came less than a week after a man opened fire at several locations in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, leaving six people dead and two severely wounded. Authorities have not disclosed a possible motive in those attacks.

Eleven of the people wounded in Thursday's attack were taken to two Wichita hospitals, where one was in critical condition, five in serious condition and five in fair condition, hospital officials said.

The others were taken to hospital in nearby Newton.

Mr Walton said his office served the suspect with the protection-from-abuse order at around 3.30pm on Thursday, about 90 minutes before the first shooting happened. He said such orders are usually filed because there is some type of violence in a relationship. He did not disclose the nature of the relationship in question.

Ford had left work early without explanation before returning hours later with a rifle, according to a co-worker.

Matt Jarrell said he and Ford worked "hand-in-hand" as painters on the second shift. He said Ford arrived as scheduled on Thursday but later disappeared and was not there to relieve him so that he could take a break.

Mr Jarrell said someone else eventually covered him and he was sitting in his truck in the car park when he saw Ford drive up in a truck that was not his. He sped away when he saw Ford shoot someone and then enter the building.

Moments later, Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, heard people shouting to others to get out of the building, then heard popping and saw the shooter, a co-worker he described as typically fairly calm.

Mr Espinoza said the shooter pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the weapon was empty. At that point, the gunman got a different gun and Mr Espinoza ran.

"He came outside after a few people, shot outside a few times, shot at the officers coming on to the scene at the moment and then reloaded in front of the company," Mr Espinoza said. "After he reloaded, he went inside the lobby in front of the building, and that is the last (time) I saw him."

Dennis Britton Jr suffered a fracture in his right leg when a bullet went through his buttocks and out of his leg.

Mr Britton's father, Dennis Britton Sr, who also works at the plant as a welding team leader, said his son was "awake and talking and communicating".

The son told his father that people initially mistook the gunshots for the sound of a gas fire. After hearing shouts, the younger Britton stepped out of a welding bay, heard a pop and "immediately went to the ground", his father said.

The officer who exchanged fire with the shooter was not injured.

Erin McDaniel, a spokeswoman for Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities.

Hesston is a community of about 3,700 people about 35 miles north of Wichita.

Excel Industries was founded there in 1960. The company manufactures Hustler and Big Dog mowing equipment.

Press Association

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