Three people were killed and 14 injured Thursday after a gunman drove through two Kansas towns randomly taking shots at people before opening fire at his workplace, police said.
The assailant, identified by police Friday as Cedric Larry Ford, was armed with an assault rifle and semi-automatic pistol during the "mass shooting" in Newton and Hesston, nearby towns about 30 miles north of Wichita, authorities said.
The shooting spree spanned six miles and covered three crime scenes — lasting just 26 minutes from when the gunman shot and injured a person at about 5 p.m. local time (6 p.m. ET) and stole a truck, until the first police officer on the scene shot him dead.
Ford was killed at Excel Industries, a lawn-care company in Hesston where he worked.
Fifteen of the victims were shot inside the building — including all three who died, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton first said at a news briefing Thursday night. Five of the wounded remained in serious condition overnight.
Walton told NBC News early Friday that Ford used the assault rifle during the rampage, but did not appear to fire his pistol.
The sheriff, when asked about a possible motive, said a deputy had served the shooter a protection from abuse order at Excel around 3:30 p.m. It was the second such order he had received after failing to show up in court, Walton said.
Walton at a news conference Friday morning declined to detail who requested the protection order, saying the investigation was still in its early stages. A report in the Wichita Eagle, a local newspaper, said Ford's "live-in girlfriend" filed a written petition for protection from abuse on Feb. 5.
The sheriff said it's possible the court order incited the workplace carnage.
"We always say it won't happen here. Well, here it is. It happened here," Walton told NBC News. "We'll get through it. It's a good community of good, strong people."
Kansas law doesn't require a permit to buy long guns or handguns, which don't have to be registered.
An ATF official said they were investigating how Ford obtained the weapons.
He had a criminal record stretching back to October 1996, when he was charged with carrying a concealed firearm when he was 18 years old, the records showed.
Law enforcement officials first became aware of Thursday's incident after being called to reports of two people shot and injured — one in the shoulder and one in the leg — on different streets across the two towns.
The gunman then drove north toward his workplace, where he shot another person in the parking lot, Walton said.
By the time the first police officer arrived at the scene, the gunman was "actively shooting at any targets that came into his sights," Walton added.
The officer — a member of the Hesston police force who was not named — went in alone, killed the gunman and "saved a lot of lives," the sheriff said.
Walton said the shooter would have fired "until he was out of ammo. I don't know how much he had. … He was just shooting indiscriminately."
"What crossed my mind was finding the bad guy, protecting everyone else who was there," Carter said. "Overwhelming. But we're on auto-pilot. We're trained for these. We just do what we're trained to do."
Carter, who was driving a pickup truck, managed to help one of the victims. Walton hailed Carter as "another hero."
A couple of hours later, Newton police and a SWAT team converged on a home in a Newton trailer park where the gunman was believed to have lived.
Walton told reporters that the shooter's roommate was inside and refusing to engage with officers — but when officials obtained a warrant and returned at 10 p.m., they found the property empty, NBC station KSN reported.
One of those injured at Excel Industries was Dennis Britton, who was shot in the right buttock and suffered a fractured right femur, according to his father.
Dennis Britton Sr., also an Excel employee, told NBC News his son "made eye contact with [the shooter] when he walked away," and that he "heard a clap and hit the floor" after being shot.
"It's rough, I'm not going to lie to you," Britton said. "He was like all the rest of them there. He's a family man. He's got three kids and one on the way."
Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, was in the plant during the attack, he told the AP. He heard people yelling to others to get out of the building, then heard popping, then saw the shooter, a co-worker he described as typically pretty calm.
Espinoza said the shooter pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. At that point, the gunman got a different gun and Espinoza ran.
"I took off running. He came outside after a few people, shot outside a few times, shot at the officers coming onto the scene at the moment and then reloaded in front of the company," Espinoza said. "After he reloaded he went inside the lobby in front of the building and that is the last I seen him."
"Excel family is deeply saddened by the horrific event that occurred yesterday," he told reporters Friday. "Our hearts go out to our employees and their families."
Kansas officials began paying their respects Thursday evening.