HESSTON, Kan.—A man who shot 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.
All of the dead were shot Thursday inside Excel Industries, a plant in Hesston that makes lawnmower products, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said. Of those hurt, 10 were critically wounded, he said.
Walton would not identify the suspect.
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.
Walton said his office served the suspect with the protection 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, who was killed. The officer was not injured.
Walton said that about 150 people were likely in the plant at the time of the shooting and that the law enforcement officer who killed the suspect “saved multiple, multiple lives.” He said the gunman also had a pistol.
The officer who killed the man is “a hero as far as I’m concerned,” Walton said.
Erin McDaniel, spokeswoman for the nearby city of Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities. She wouldn’t elaborate.
A nearby college was briefly locked down.
Later Thursday night, several law enforcement vehicles surrounded the suspect’s home in a Newton trailer park. The Harvey County Sheriff’s Department initially said authorities believed the suspect’s roommate could be inside. But McDaniel, the Newton spokeswoman, said later that the standoff had ended and no one was inside.
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.
Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement late Thursday, calling the shootings “a tragedy that affects every member of the community.”
Walton said the FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had been called in to assist. A spokeswoman for the Kansas City office of the FBI did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday night.
“This is just a horrible incident. … There’s going to be a lot of sad people before this is all over,” Walton said.