HESSTON — A lot can happen in a year’s time.
From sorrow, grief and sadness, a time for hope eventually can come forward.
More than 250 people came together Sunday at the Hesston High School gymnasium for a service called “One Year — A Community Remembers: ‘The Light Shines in the Darkness,’ ” commemorating those killed in a mass shooting last year.
The shootings happened on a Thursday afternoon at approximately 5 p.m. when Cedric Ford, an employee at Excel Industries, went to work at the Hesston lawn equipment company with an AK-47 rifle and began a shooting spree that ended as one of Kansas’ worst, killing three people and wounding 14 others.
“This is the kind of event that we were sure could never happen in our community,” Hesston Mayor Dave Kauffman said Sunday. “But it did. We want to remember the victims and those who responded bravely and thank God for the strength to get us through the worst and most difficult time in our city’s history.”
The event drew tears and gasps of joy at times as victims recalled how their lives had changed. More than $150,000 was donated to the Hesston Community Foundation after the shootings to help victims, said Brad Burkholder, pastor at the Hesston MB Church.
“As the ministerial alliance, we asked what we could do,” Burkholder told the audience Sunday. “Over the past year, there is not really a script. At first, we all did what we were told to do. But then it becomes how do we care for one another and help each other heal.”
Sabrina Luke, fiancee of Josh Higbee — one of three people killed by Ford — is in the process of adopting Higbee’s son.
Adam Miller, who was wounded, is looking forward to watching his family grow.
Andy Wray, longtime Hesston employee of Excel, has a deeper faith.
“I think we can all agree that life has changed a lot,” Wray said. “I will never forget going home that evening — that night I got home ... my wife and I just embraced each other. The toughest thing we wrestled with is how do we tell our kids and the new realities they will be facing.”
He drew faith, he said, from Scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
“I grew up with faith, and I felt I always did good things,” Wray said. “This was the first event in my life I felt it was so big, I had no control.”
The events on Feb. 25, 2016, were a tragedy that jarred this mostly rural Mennonite community.
But on Sunday, bulletins passed out to those who attended the candlelight service included a quote from John 1:15, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Fourteen candles then were lit, one for each of the people wounded.
Four candles were lit for those who died, including the shooter.
“The invitation is for you to go forth from this place,” said pastor Gary Blaine. “Let your light shine as God has given you light. Let it shine. Don’t hide it. Don’t put it in your coat pocket, or in a closet or, as Jesus said, in a basket. Let it shine. Let your light shine in the blackness of violence.
“I wish we could say it was over Feb. 25, 2016, but it is not. Let your light shine. Let your light shine in the deep and dim, faint cave of despair and depression. ... If your neighbor’s light goes out, reach over and spark it anew.”
A plaque from Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Kirk Thompson was awarded to Hesston for the community’s valor and grace shown following the shootings.
“I want to invite you to hold on to what is comforting to you,” said chaplain Amy Classen. “Leave behind anything that isn’t.”
The event Sunday was sponsored by the Hesston Ministerial Alliance, Excel Industries and the Hesston Community Foundation.