HESSTON, Kan. — Grieving residents of this small town parked riding lawnmowers with American flags fluttering beside them along streets on Saturday and adorned them “Hesston Hustler Strong” signs in a symbolic reference to the lawn equipment brand from the factory where a gunman killed three co-workers.

The Excel Industries factory nestled in the center of this peaceful community of 3,700 founded by Mennonite farmers has long been more than an economic hub. It is a source of pride that binds people together. It draws nearly 1,000 workers from towns around the region and everyone seems to either work there or know someone who does.

The Hustler brand evolved in the 1960s from the tinkering of John Regier, who built a lawn mower that could maneuver more easily to cut grass around obstacles such as treesand winding sidewalk. The company now sells Hustler and Big Dog equipment around the globe and in 2013 earned the Kansas Governor’s Exporter of the Year award.

The quiet of Hesston was shattered on Thursday when Cedric L. Ford barged into the plant while about 300 people were working the second shift and opened fire. Authorities say Ford, a convicted felon, was upset after being served hours earlier at the plant with a protection from abuse order to stay away from a former girlfriend. In addition to three people killed, 14 were wounded.

It fell to Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, one of a force of just six full-time officers, to rush into the plant without backup and kill the gunman in an exchange of bullets. An off-duty officer drove his pickup truck to the plant and took an wounded worker to a nearby ambulance.

The police chief was hailed as a hero in a community where people help each other out.

“At Excel, we are like a family,” said Rick Lett, a friend since high school of one of the dead, 44-year-old Brian Sadowsky. Lett worked an earlier shift and recalled his friend’s last words to him as Sadowsky arrived for that fateful second shift: “Have a good evening, brother.”

The other workers killed inside the plant were Josh Higbee, 31, and Renee Benjamin, 30.

People are relying on their faith to get them through the days to come.

“We’re very realistic,” said lifelong Hesston resident Lori Weaver. “We’re not in a bubble. We’re going to support each other and trust God.”