In a series of shootings Thursday, a gunman killed three and injured 14 more. The shootings ended at Excel Industries just a few blocks from the college, when the gunman, now identified as Cedric Ford, was killed by Police Chief Doug Schroeder.
While the violence never touched campus, an atmosphere of anxiety and fear certainly did. Several students reported hearing gunfire coming from Excel, just blocks away. The campus went on lock-down for about 75 minutes as students, faculty and staff watched their phones for an all-clear text authorities.
At 8:30 that evening Hesston College students, faculty, and staff gathered together in the Hesston Mennonite Church sanctuary along with Hesston community members, responding in the best way they knew how: They prayed.
President Howard Keim led the service.
“We thought it would never happen in Hesston,” he said. “It happened.”
Emma Roth, a sophomore, said she was impressed with the college’s response. The norm, she said, is to match violence with violence.
“We didn’t do that,” she said. “Howard talked about the love of Jesus and how we respond with love instead of hate.”
At the end of the service, another call for prayer: “Take the time to pray for yourself, for all of us here at Hesston, and especially for those at Excel Industries,” said Keim.
The service ended quickly, but many students stayed behind, comforting those around them.
The greater Hesston community gathered again Friday evening for a candlelight vigil and again last night in the Hesston High School gym for “Harvey County Service of Sorrow and Hope,” which filled the gym to capacity. Area pastors lit candles for the 18 individuals shot, including one for Cedric Ford.
In an email to Hesston College students, faculty and staff sent earlier today, Keim thanked the campus for the compassion shown to the Excel community, naming the many ways they’ve responded with love: signing cards for Excel, Bel Canto’s singing at Sunday services, three students who were at the scene with First Responders, staff who volunteered as counselors, food service providing food for response workers Friday.
“The care you are showing to each other and the Hesston Community is a tribute to this place, where we seek to educate and nurture in Christ centered community,” Keim said.
The list is long. And the need doesn’t end there.
“In the coming days and weeks, there will be more opportunities to show support as the Hesston and Excel community moves from response to recovery. Continue to pray for all of the victims of this tragedy, and for Excel leaders and employees as they re-enter their place of work in the coming days. Pray for the leaders of the city, EMS workers, law enforcement, and all who are working to help our community recover.”