Hesston factory gunman had been served protection order, sheriff says
HESSTON — A man who wounded three people before storming into the central Kansas factory where he worked and shooting 15 others, killing three of them, had just been served a protection from abuse order that likely triggered the attack, a sheriff said Friday.
The attack Thursday evening at the Excel Industries lawnmower parts plant in Hesston ended when a police officer killed the attacker during an exchange gunfire, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said. He described the officer Friday as a "tremendous hero" because there were still 200 or 300 other people in the factory and that 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," Walton said. He declined to identify the suspect or the officer but said the suspect's name would be released later Friday. The names of those killed also weren't disclosed.
The shooting came less than a week after authorities say a man opened fire at several locations in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, leaving six people dead and two severely wounded. Authorities haven't 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 were in serious condition, and five were in fair condition Friday morning, hospital officials said. The others were taken to a Newton hospital, and their conditions weren't immediately available.
Walton said his office served the suspect with the protection from abuse order at around 3:30 p.m., which was about 90 minutes before the first shooting happened. He said such orders are usually filed because there's some type of violence in a relationship, but he didn't disclose the nature of the relationship in question.
While driving to the factory, the gunman shot a man on the street in the nearby town of Newton, striking him in the shoulder. A short time later, he shot someone else in the leg at an intersection.
"The shooter proceeded north to Excel Industries in Hesston, where one person was shot in the parking lot before he opened fire inside the building," the department said in a release. "He was seen entering the building with an assault-style long gun."
Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, was in the plant during the attack. He heard people yelling to others to get out of the building, then heard popping, then saw the shooter, a co-worker he described as typically pretty calm.
Espinoza said the shooter pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. At that point, the gunman got a different gun and Espinoza ran.
"I took off running. He came outside after a few people, shot outside a few times, shot at the officers coming onto the scene at the moment and then reloaded in front of the company," Espinoza told The Associated Press. "After he reloaded he went inside the lobby in front of the building and that is the last I seen him."
A Hesston officer responding to the scene exchanged fire with the shooter and killed him. The officer was not injured.
Walton said the attacker had an "assault-style" rifle and a pistol.
Erin McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the nearby city of Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities. She wouldn't elaborate.
Hesston is a community of about 3,700 residents about 35 miles north of Wichita.
Excel Industries was founded there in 1960. The company manufactures Hustler and Big Dog mowing equipment and was awarded the Governor's Exporter of the Year award in 2013 from the Kansas Department of Commerce.