Remembering the Excel tragedy a year later

by Jenna Ratzlaff – Horizon News & Features Editor

On Feb. 25, a gunman entered Excel industries and proceeded to open fire, killing three and wounding 17. Gunman Cedric Ford was stopped when Hesston police chief Doug Schroeder shot and killed him. Now a year later, the Hesston community reflects.

Kylie Brenneman, a freshman, was at the gym at Hesston High School when she found out.

Pastors from the Hesston churches light candles in remembrance of those injured and killed. Photo by Sarah Booth

“I first heard the news when my friend’s dad, who is a police officer, called me and told me there was a shooter headed toward Hesston,” she said.  “At the same point, my best friend got a call that her grandma was shot at in her car on Old 81 headed to Hesston. My heart sunk as it felt so real. I was scared knowing that it happened right across the street.”

Sophomore Zach Stauffer works for the Hesston Fire/EMS and was one of the student EMTs who were called to the scene that day.

“The shooting impacted me as a first responder by kind of hardening myself of what I will see in the field,” he said. “Seeing what a gunshot does to a human body is not something I want to see in my everyday experience, but if it comes again, I am prepared for what is to come.”

Juli Winter, Dean of Students, says the event made the possibility of violence “very real” to everyone.

“This can happen anywhere; this can happen in Hesston, Kansas,” she said.

The shooting provided an opportunity to look at safety protocols more closely, Winter said. It also affirmed our ability to handle the situation.

“We locked down the campus without really any problems,” she said. “Students we talked to later indicated they felt safe.”

The theme for “A Community Remembers” was John 1:5: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Photo by Sarah Booth

Last Sunday a service held at Hesston High School, “A Community Remembers,” acknowledged both those lost and those who will be forever changed by the trauma. During the service, three people shared about their experiences with the shooting and how they have turned to their faith during their time of grieving. One of those panelists was Andy Wray, an employee at Excel who also works for Hesston Fire/EMS. reported:

“In life it seems like there were so many things I could control, but this was just so big, so massive,” Wray said. “And there was nothing I could do to fix it and reaching to God for hope in a time of despair, it was all I had. That’s really what’s brought me to where I am now, I believe.”

During the service the city of Hesston was also rewarded by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for their supportive efforts given after the shooting.

In the end, Stauffer tries to look on the bright side.

“I think the shooting impacted the community in general as a unifying event,” Stauffer said. “It is not the best way to unify a community but it sure did.  I think it impacted campus life here by challenging our faith and beliefs.”

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