On his Facebook page, Cedric Ford blasts into a field of stubble with what looks like an AK-47 assault rifle.
Also on his social media postings, he poses in loving embraces with two young children. He places his hand to the glass at a zoo exhibit, seemingly in awe of the wild creatures he is experiencing up close.
At his job at Excel Industries in Hesston, where he painted mowing equipment, Ford exhibited a “whirlwind of emotions,” said co-worker Alicia Sloan.
According to co-workers and neighbors, Ford was a mix of a man:
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He was a 38-year-old with a criminal record and a history of violence that reached a terrible climax Thursday afternoon, after a neighbor saw him walk angrily from his mobile home in south Newton and throw what looked like a machine gun into his car and speed off. The neighbor called 911. But minutes later, he began shooting at other motorists on his way to the Excel plant, where he gunned down three others and wounded 14 before the Hesston police chief killed him.
According to Sloan and another co-worker, Matt Jarrell, Ford felt picked on.
“He didn’t like how people treated him, being a minority,” Jarrell said Friday. Ford was African-American and a transplant to Kansas, where he lived and worked in a predominantly white, small town. He still thought of Florida as home. One of the tattoos covering his upper body was a Sunshine State area code. Jarrell said he heard Ford say, “This ain’t nothing like back home.”
Even though Ford had a criminal record – felony convictions for burglary, grand theft and carrying a concealed weapon in Florida, and misdemeanor convictions for disorderly conduct and domestic violence in Kansas – he was seen as a good neighbor and tenant at the mobile home park.
He spent time and money detailing his 2006 Dodge Charger, taking it to car shows and boasting that its sound system made it the “ninth loudest” in Kansas. On Facebook, he had announced plans to attend a Park City car show this weekend.
‘He was caring’
Jarrell worked with Ford for three years. Ford had been with Excel for several years, Jarrell said. Ford worked second shift, in a paint booth. He didn’t like overtime.
“He always talked about wanting to spend time with his family,” Jarrell said. Ford had two children – a 2-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, according to court records. He took the pair to children’s events, Jarrell said.
“He was caring. That’s what’s really disturbing about him doing all this,” he said.
At work, “He was laid-back, kind of kept to himself for the most part.”
Jarrell said he saw Ford “distraught” a couple of times about his job. Asked what he meant by that, Jarrell said that Ford felt he that other crew members “nitpicked” him, “trying to get above him,” in a paint department that is its “own little family.”
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Still, Jarrell said, he never heard Ford threaten violence against his co-workers.
“He liked to drink on the weekends,” Jarrell said. “He drinks a lot of gin.” At his mobile home in the 2000 block of Wagon Wheel in south Newton, a nearly empty liquor bottle could be seen Friday afternoon on Ford’s kitchen counter.
Another key part of Ford’s entertainment was his car, a dark greenish gray Dodge Charger that had fancy rims at one point and low-profile tires. Some times he drove fast. In August, he got a ticket for taking the car up to 91 mph on I-135 in Newton. But about a week ago, the car had a flat tire, and Ford put stock wheels back on. Monday or Tuesday, just a few days before his rampage, he had a tow truck take his Charger to the shop to get it fixed. He wanted to take the Charger to the show.
Ford had lived for about a year in a mobile home on Singletree, with a woman and young children, just a street over from his current address, neighbors said. She was the mother of his children; the couple appeared to have an on-again, off-again relationship, according to court records. They eventually split in August 2015.
Andrea Jaso, who lives across the street from the Singletree home, on Friday described the Cedric Ford she knew as a “nice guy.” “Everytime, he’d go by, he’d wave at us,” Jaso said. She remembers him detailing his car and blaring music from it.
He would take the children to the neighborhood pool.
“I never noticed anything violent about him,” Jaso said.
Ernie Carson, a manager at the mobile home park, said Friday that Ford had moved to his current home a couple of weeks ago, apparently after moving out of the home a block over and after living for a while in Wichita. The woman he lived with in Wichita had filed the protection-from-abuse order that authorities had served Ford immediately prior to the shootings. She alleges that during an argument on Feb. 5, Ford grabbed her and put her in a chokehold until she couldn’t breathe.
She called him “alcoholic, violent, depressed” and “in desperate need of medical & psychological help” in a handwritten statement on her petition for the protection order. Ford was charged with domestic violence in the case.
In 2009, as part of his sentence in a Harvey County disorderly conduct case, Ford completed a court-ordered anger management program, a court record shows. An official with the program said on the document that Ford “has arrived here … willing to listen and apply himself. … He has some complications, which he is working on and now that anger is understood as an emotion, he has new options before acting.”
The official added that “his persistence in thinking before acting will serve him well in the future.”
Carson, the mobile home park manager, said Ford had been a good neighbor and tenant.
“It’s still trying to sink into me what happened here,” Carson said of the shooting spree.
Authorities served Ford with the protection-from-abuse documents at work about an hour and a half before he opened fire. After he received the paperwork, he looked upset and left work, authorities said.
One of Ford’s neighbors at the mobile home park saw the beginning of his rampage Thursday.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, said Friday that she saw Ford walk out of his home late Thursday afternoon, looking angry – and holding a large black gun. “Looked like a machine gun to me,” she said.
Just before that, she had called the manager of the mobile home park to tell him that Ford was playing music too loudly. As soon as she hung up, she heard the door to Ford’s home slam and saw him walking off. He looked as if “he was on a mission, determined,” she said.
He threw the gun into the car and sped off in what looked like a Dodge Charger with dark windows.
She called the manager back and told him about the gun, and he told her to call 911, which she immediately did, between about 4:45 and 5 p.m. The 911 dispatcher asked for a description of what she had seen, including what her neighbor and the gun looked like.
On Friday, the neighbor also remembered that Ford had just had furniture delivered to his home on Wednesday, the day before he opened fire.
“So there was no way, I think, it was planned,” she said.
Recent demotion at work
Sloan, who had worked on the Excel paint line with Ford in the past year, said she heard him say “that a lot of people picked on him.”
“He got teased a lot, but he’d tease back,” she said. The teasing was prompted by him not doing his job correctly, she said.
He had been a team leader but was demoted about three months ago, Sloan said. She saw what seemed to be a peaceful exchange between Ford and a supervisor about the demotion. Ford went from the paint line to the paint booth.
Much of Ford’s talk had to do with his car, which he often put in car shows. He would eagerly wait for his tax refund so he could spend money on his car.
Sloan said she could tell when he was depressed. “He wore all of his emotions on his sleeve,” she said.
About three to four months ago, around the time he was still a team leader, she noticed a Facebook posting from him saying only: “Nobody cares.”
When Sloan heard a co-worker ask Ford what he meant by “Nobody cares,” she said, Ford just walked away.
Tim Kasper of Newton, an Excel Industries employee, was in the building when shooter Cedric Ford began his rampage Thursday in Hesston. (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle) McClatchybhorwath@wichitaeagle.com
Contributing: Bryan Horwath of The Eagle