A former girlfriend of Cedric Ford, the suspect in last week’s shooting rampage in Hesston, Kansas, had repeatedly pawned both the murder weapon and the killer’s backup gun over a two-year period, according to the store’s owner.
“She pawned those guns on multiple occasions,” Jason McCool, who runs A Pawn Shop in nearby Newton, tells The Trace. “I’m the one who contacted the police after the shooting. I let them know.”
The former girlfriend, Sarah Hopkins, 28, was charged on Friday for knowingly transferring guns to a convicted felon, and faces up to ten years in prison. Ford had a lengthy criminal history, including multiple felony convictions, which prohibited him from legally purchasing or owning firearms.
Hopkins’s own clean record meant she had no problem passing a federal background check. According the affidavit in her case, she provided Ford with an AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle and a .40-caliber handgun. Ford used the former to kill three people and 14 others at the Excel Industries factory in Hessen, where he worked.
The affidavit states that Hopkins acquired both weapons through A Pawn Shop in March 2014. McCool says that those transactions began with her purchasing the guns from an Internet seller and having them shipped to his store, where he then transferred the weapons to Hopkins, a process that requires a background check. According to McCool, Hopkins had transferred and pawned multiple guns at the store since it opened in 2009.
“She’s been in and out of here,” he says.
Hopkins and Ford lived together in Newton and had two children between them, a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. In July, according to court records, she moved out of their home. Later that month, she returned with police to retrieve her guns, at which time Hopkins “advised the officers [that] Ford was a convicted felon and could not lawfully possess them.” In August, though, according to the affidavit, she returned the firearms to Ford because he had “threatened her.”
In a 2010 study that appeared in the Journal of Urban Health, researchers found that handguns purchased by women are twice as likely as those bought by men to be recovered and traced by law enforcement. Women often function as straw purchasers for their boyfriends or husbands, who, like Ford, may have a criminal record that makes it impossible for them to pass a background check.
“Kansas is just the latest example of what’s going on across the country every day,” says Nancy Robinson, executive director of Operation Lipstick, a nonprofit devoted to combating straw purchasing by women. “It’s a relationship-based crime. Women, who in many cases are getting abused, are exploited, forced into buying guns for their men.”
Other than the threat in August, the affidavit does not mention an abusive history between Hopkins and Ford, though Ford does have a record of domestic violence. Less than two hours before he began killing his coworkers on February 25, he was served a temporary restraining order from his current girlfriend, who said was “violent” and he had placed her “in a chokehold from behind.”
Though Hopkins and Ford had broken up when she gave the crime guns back to him late this summer, at some point she decided to get the semi-automatic rifle away from him again, this time retrieving it herself. She then pawned the weapon again to McCool on at least one more occasion.
According to the affidavit, Hopkins retrieved the gun from the shop for the last time on February 5, three weeks before Ford allegedly used it to carry out his attack.
On Monday, Hopkins was released from jail on a $10,000 unsecured bond. She has a court date on March 9.
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