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Hesston: Sounds Of Resilience

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Abigail Beckman
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KMUW/File Photo

On Feb. 25, the city of Hesston suffered a terrible tragedy. An employee of Excel Industries shot and killed three people at work and wounded another 14. He was stopped by the Hesston police chief, who shot and killed him. Now the healing must start. KMUW's Aileen LeBlanc has this sound portrait.

Resident David Norris

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Credit Carla Eckels
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"Something like this is very traumatic, and it'll take a while for the community to heal. In the early 90s, the town was just about destroyed by a tornado and it came back stronger, and we'll do that here, too."

Residents Art and Elaine Tozier

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Credit Aileen LeBlanc / KMUW
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KMUW
Art Tozier

"I am going to encourage [my employees] to take a good hard look at emergency situations like this, like fire and who knows, a host of other events that can take place because it can happen anywhere anytime, and this event has encouraged me to do something, and I'm gonna try." - Art Tozier

"A lot of these people aren't from Hesston, and I'm trying to figure out for myself how can we show that to all those people, you know, the strong love that we have in our community and I think that needs to be conveyed to those people that come from outside of the community." - Elaine Tozier

Co-owner of Lincoln Perk Coffee Hanna Eastin

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Credit Abigail Wilson / KMUW
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KMUW
Hanna Eastin.

"There's been a tenderness and a care that, seems to me, come to the forefront. Less of the fear and angst and more of the we're going to hold the fear and angst with compassion and hope."

Chaplain Jason Reynolds

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Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
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KMUW
Jason Reynolds.

"I had a chaplain yesterday who took my phone and radio away from me and said, 'I've got the calls. You need to go on a date with your wife.' We are helping each other find those moments of normal in our own lives, which keeps us centered and keeps us healthy so we can do what we're doing."

911 director for Harvey County Don Gruver

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Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
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KMUW
Don Gruver.

"Got up Sunday, went to church and then told my wife, as we were getting ready for church, I said, 'I got a brand new grandbaby. I need to some grandbaby time. So we met my son and our grandbaby over lunch at the restaurant where his girlfriend works, and we got to spend some time with them and got to hold the grandbaby and that just kind of made it all better."

Pastor John Murray

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Credit Larry Bartel / Hesston College
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Hesston College
Pastor John Murray of Hesston Mennonite Church addresses a prayer service at Hesston High School.

"This tragedy will always be a part of the history of this community and will be a part of our lives. We're not trying to put it behind us or put it away. We're trying to say, 'How can we transform our pain?' Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, talked about transforming pain rather than transmitting pain, and we want to transform our pain so we don't transmit it to anybody else. There is so much pain in this world that happens and then those who experience pain turn around and transmit it on [others]. We want to mark a beginning that pain can be transformed in a way that brings healing, grace, forgiveness, hope and establishes a new way of being."

Mayor David Kauffman

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Credit Aileen LeBlanc / KMUW
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KMUW
David Kauffman, mayor of Hesston.

"We may or may not be known for this down the road, and I can't change that, but if people will come and meet us and learn about our city, [they'll see] we have a great city here. We have great industry. We have AGCO and Excel that both employ more than a thousand people in our little town. Just wonderful people and community spirit."

Hesston High School Principal Ty Rhodes

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Credit Abigail Wilson / KMUW
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KMUW
Ty Rhodes.

"I see people just doing things that are supporting other people without expecting any support back in return. That has really been amazing to see. So that'll continue in our town. Hopefully, it'll just be quieter here."

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Aileen LeBlanc is news director at KMUW. Follow her on Twitter @Aileen_LeBlanc.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

 

Carla Eckels is Director of Cultural Diversity for News and Engagement at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.
Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.