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Mass Shooting

The Kansas Workplace Shootings Were the Town’s First Gun Homicides in Years

Residents of Hesston, Kansas are used to worrying about tornadoes. Now they’re contending with a different type of devastation.

Gunfire rocked a quiet town in central Kansas yesterday evening when a man opened fire in two seemingly random locations, wounding two, before shooting up a lawn mower factory, killing three people and injuring 12 others. It was the first shooting of any kind to occur in at least two years in the town of Hesston, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that began tracking gun incidents in 2014.

Robb Reeves is the publisher of the local newspaper, the Hesston Record, and has lived in the town for ten years. “There has never been a murder of any sort, based on our research,” he says. The Hesston Police Department could not immediately provide statistics on shootings in previous years.

Hesston is a blue-collar town set amid wheat fields and cattle farms in Harvey County, Kansas, about 35 miles north of Wichita. Many of the roughly 4,000 residents work at one of several industrial factories in the area, including Excel Industries, the lawn mower plant where the bulk of Thursday’s shooting unfolded. “It’s a pretty quiet place,” says Libby Albers, director of the Hesston Public Library. “You know your neighbors, kids go out, they come back at sunset.”

Gun violence and other crimes are not high on residents’ list of worries. “A lot of folks leave things unlocked,” says Albers. “We’ll get a bicycle stolen and things like that.” The town’s last major disaster struck in 1990, when a tornado destroyed hundreds of homes.

The Hesston shooting comes on the heels of last week’s mass shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which left six people dead and two others injured. “No place is immune from this anymore,” wrote former Hesston resident Camden Pankratz on Facebook. “This is rare and shocking, and has shocked, rattled and gashed my hometown.”

“Everyone says it can’t happen here,” said Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton at a press conference last night. “And here we are. It happened here.”

[photo: KWCH-TV via AP]