I was getting ready for my birthday dinner when I received the call no person ever wants to receive. I received a call from Dominique, my brother’s wife, at approximately 6:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. central time). My brother Nick had called her and said, “I’ve been shot in the leg and I’m bleeding badly. I love you,” then the phone hung up. That day changed my life forever. On February 25, 2016 Cedric Larry Ford brought an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock 22 semi-automatic pistol in to Excel Industries, a lawnmower manufacturer in Hesston, Kansas. The shooting spree began at 4:57 p.m. and ended at 5:23 p.m. when Cedric was shot by Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder. My brother, Nick Moon, was among the first people shot as Cedric entered the door. Cedric had worked alongside my brother on the paint line and he would later say of Cedric, “he was a reasonably likeable guy with a shady side.”
My brother was at the paint booth right inside the door that Cedric entered. Nick said, “He just walked in and started firing. I was hit instantly in the leg and fell to the floor. The girl working with me turned to run and was shot in the hand as she turned to flee. Cedric walked over to me as I lay bleeding on the floor. He looked right at me and could have easily killed me but for some reason he just walked on.” Cedric killed three people and injured fourteen.
The news that my brother was shot made me instantly want to throw up. I called his phone. I called hospitals. For the next hour and a half, I was frantic. There was a moment of grief so severe that I felt like I wanted to rip my cabinets off the wall and smash my whole kitchen. At that point I didn’t know if my brother was alive or if he had bled out and died. Those moments were some of the worst moments of my life. I called around to every hospital and finally found a hospital that would give me information. There were so many injured that they had to take them to different trauma centers. As it turns out my brother was life-lined to St. Francis and went into emergency surgery.
My brother was shot in the leg. The bullet shattered both bones. The surgeons said they stabilized my brothers leg through a bone graft. He would have to have two more surgeries on his leg to enable him to walk. After he was fully healed, he would send me picture of his knee and the caption would say, “Went to the grocery store, picked up a ham.” His knee would be about three times the size it should have been. His leg probably should have been amputated but my brother would hear nothing of it.
My brother’s close friend Renee Benjamin was initially shot in a booth overlooking the paint department. Cedric took the time in the 26-minute spree to go up into the booth and shoot Renee a second time to ensure she was dead. Renee and my brother rode back and forth together to work. Renee had filed a sexual harassment claim against Cedric, so he made sure her life was taken. My brother loved Renee. My brother would say, “Why did she have to die? Why couldn’t it have been me? Why did I have to be shot first? My weapon was in the glove compartment of my truck.” Renee’s death was something my brother took personally and seeing him grieve over her cut me to the core. My brother would have done anything to take her place.
My brother was plagued by the “why me’s?” He often times wished that he wasn’t one of the survivors. To survive with the mental pain he experienced was too much. It was obvious to me that my brother was in physical pain, but the emotional pain caused by that day far outweighed any physical anguish that he might have experienced. My brother became increasingly paranoid that an incident like that might happen again. We have always been around guns, but the guns we were around were for hunting. My brother began to collect weapons that were for personal protection. The weight of the PTSD my brother suffered was one of the most immense strangle holds I’ve ever seen on any person’s life.
Nick was prescribed prescription pain medication to help him cope with the daily pain his leg caused. The mental anguish he experienced drove him to take his prescribed medications inappropriately. My brother wanted to feel numb because the feelings were too deep and overwhelming when they were raw. Twenty-two months after my brother was shot, he died of an accidental overdose from prescribed pain medications.
This Friday it will be five years since my brother was shot in a work place shooting. I’ve experienced every stage of grief and loss over what occurred that day. Grief is losing a piece of your heart and realizing you’d have it no other way. My heart still hurts over what my brother had to suffer. Tears readily come to my eyes when I begin to think about him. Phoebe, Zeke, and I were able to visit my brother’s wife Dominique and his son Luke a few months ago. They are living every day without a husband and a father. The selfishness someone exhibits in taking a person away from their family makes me very angry.
This event has caused me to be more attentive to the trauma people have experienced. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, “70% of adults in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.” That’s 223.4 million people. According to the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, “about 6% of people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.” Giving people the benefit of the doubt and being merciful to their pain should be a basic human response.
My brother’s heart was hardened to all things religious. If someone started a religious conversation with him he would immediately shut them down. I spoke often to my brother about God still having a plan for his life. I told my brother that he still had a purpose and on several occasion he allowed me to pray with him. I know he is at peace now and that he is no longer suffering mental or physical anguish.
Nick was one of the kindest hearted people and I loved him. He had a compassion for animals and a love for life that made life more joyful. He looked up to me and I wanted to be a better man because of his love for me. I miss him every day and I pray that God helps me cope with my grief. In Isaiah 61:1-3, the prophet says that the Messiah will “bind up the brokenhearted.” The binding being spoke of here is a mending like a fisherman mending a net. I would like to envision it as God holding together the hearts of those who are experiencing brokenness. I pray God will do this for me and for my family. I also pray it is He will do this for all people who are experiencing trauma or loss.