Hesston community continues to cling to its faith, one year after Excel mass shooting

HESSTON, Kan. (KWCH) One year after a deadly mass shooting at Excel Industries in Hesston, the community continues to cling to its faith.

"Right after we prayed, we heard these weird noises," recalls Alice Jantz.

When the gunshots sounded and the sirens wailed, the small town of Hesston, Kansas realized something was wrong.

"The only thing I saw was a light suit, like a paint suit, and boots, laying there. Like they just literally ran out of their boots," she remembers.

Each person in Hesston found their own way to respond on February 25, 2016.

Some rushed to help the injured. Others saw their answer in a cup of coffee. Each was often guided by their faith in God.

"I told the kids, I said, I feel terrible. I wish there was something I could do," Jantz continues to reminisce. "My oldest daughter says, 'Mom, you could serve coffee'."

Jantz lived across the street from Excel. She quickly became known as the coffee lady to first responders and media alike. The pot she used to keep the coffee flowing still sits in her kitchen.

Spiritual leaders quickly gathered the community for vigils and memorial services. They made a difficult decision to memorialize the shooter along with his victims.

"He has family, he has people around him that also lost somebody, and a part of that was unique and that we really had to wrestle with," states Pastor Brad Burkholder of Hesston Mennonite Brethren Church. "I don't like what he did. It hurt a lot of people that I care about. I also know that he was hurting."

Pastor Burkholder spent much of the last year as the liaison with the victims and their families, passing on donated funds, offering prayer and a shoulder to lean on - often to people he'd never met before.

"But now, I know those names and I've been in their homes and I've seen the pain and it's hard for me to let go," he says.