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Lawsuit filed against store that sold guns used in 2016 Kansas workplace shooting

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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A gun-control advocacy organization said Thursday it has filed a lawsuit against a Kansas pawn shop that sold the weapons used in a workplace shooting in 2016 that left three people dead and more than a dozen injured.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said it filed a lawsuit against "A Pawn Shop" in Newton, Kan., on behalf of the family of Joshua Higbee, who was killed when Cedric Ford allegedly opened fire at Excel Industries in Hesston where Ford worked on Feb. 25, 2016.

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The Brady Center alleges that the pawn shop transferred an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun to Sarah Jo Hopkins, identified by police as Ford's ex-girlfriend, "despite numerous indications that she was acting as a straw purchaser for Ford," who as a convicted felon was prohibited from owning firearms.

Mike Strong, the owner of the pawn shop, declined to comment on the announced suit.

Ford was shot dead by police after the rampage, which occurred in Newtown and Hesston. Police charged Hopkins with one count of transfer of a weapon to a convicted felon for allegedly giving the guns to Ford.

Image: FBI agents search the parking lot at Excel Industries
FBI agents search the parking lot at Excel Industries, the scene of Thursday's shooting, in Hesston, Kan., on Feb. 26, 2016.Orlin Wagner / AP

The charge was amended to one count of misprision, a felony, and Hopkins pleaded guilty in September of 2016 and was sentenced to a year on supervised release, The Hutchinson News newspaper reported.

The announced lawsuit comes just days before the three-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Kansas, and a week after a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school in Parkland, killing 17 students — a shooting that has inspired calls among some for tougher gun laws.

Related: NRA's LaPierre accuses Democrats of exploiting Parkland shooting in speech

The Brady Center said in announcing the lawsuit that Ford used “a semi-automatic assault rifle, similar to the type used by gunmen in recent mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sutherland Springs, Texas."

In a statement provided by the Brady Center, Higbee's wife Subrina Luke said: "Joshua was a wonderful man and a wonderful father. It feels like we lost everything when he was taken from us."

Image: Gunman kills 3, wounds 14 in Kansas shooting spree
An undated handout booking photo provided by the Harvey County Sheriff's Office on 26 February 2016 shows Cedric Ford.Harvey County Sheriff via EPA

Also killed in the shooting at Excel Industries were Renee Benjamin, 30, and Brian Sadowsky, 44, police said at the time. Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said at the time that Ford used the rifle in the attack but did not appear to fire the handgun.

Related: Trump's proposal to arm teachers panned by experts as a 'colossally stupid idea'

Hopkins told an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that she took the guns from the Newton home they once shared in August of 2015, but returned them to Ford after he threatened her, according to a criminal complaint.

An employee of the pawn shop said Hopkins bought the guns in March 2014 and later pawned them, the ATF agent wrote in an affidavit.

Hopkins allegedly got the AK-47-type rifle out of pawn on Feb. 5, 2016. It is unclear from the affidavit when the Glock was taken out of pawn.

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