Officer dies after being shot in St. Louis suburb
By Matthew Hathaway, Patrick M. O'Connell
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. -- Sgt. Michael R. King was about an hour and a half into his Friday night shift when he pulled into a parking spot on Leland Avenue, directly in front of the University Square apartments and only a few feet away from the bustling Delmar Loop.
King, a 25-year University City police veteran, was sitting in his marked police car about 10:20 p.m. when police say a convicted drug dealer walked up to the car and fired several shots from a handgun, killing the sergeant.
Police said the gunman, whom they identified as Todd L. Shepard, 41, jumped into a car and sped off west on Delmar, eluding a high-speed police pursuit. He remained at large late Saturday night.
Investigators said they believe Shepard may have been driving a light-colored, four-door 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass with Missouri license plate 2AB 28J. Police also are looking for a white or light-colored Grand Am that may be involved.
"We need the public's help; we need their help to capture him," University City police Chief Charles Adams said.
King, 50, was married and had no children. He was an avid fisherman, hunter and a graduate of University City High School and Washington University.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to his family," Adams said. "We're at a loss, just like they are."
King, formerly a field training officer and an investigator in the detective bureau, often mentored young officers, the chief said. His family said he served as a St. Charles sheriff's deputy and a probation and parole officer before joining the University City department.
"He was an extremely good officer, very dedicated and always did a great job," Adams said. "He was a professional policeman, and he loved being a policeman."
Gail Bertke, a longtime friend of King and his wife, Susan, described the officer as "a good, patient and calm person, a good man ... and a great friend."
Bertke, of Crestwood, said King became a police officer because "Mike always liked to help people."
Police said they knew of no motive for the shooting. Investigators were not aware of any history between Shepard and King, nor any incident between the two that preceded the shooting, police said.
"As far as the what and the why," Adams said, "we haven't been able to determine that."
Adams said Shepard was the only person sought in connection with the shooting.
University City police are handling the search, but police officers across the area are on the lookout for Shepard and the vehicles, several police agencies said. The cars' descriptions were broadcast over police radios throughout the day Saturday.
Shepard is well-known to University City officers, police said, and he has a record that includes guilty pleas to multiple counts of felony drug trafficking and second-degree assault in a 1990s University City case, according to online court records. Shepard last served two years of supervised probation for a 2004 misdemeanor assault charge, records suggest.
King is the first St. Louis-area police officer killed in the line of duty since the Feb. 7 shootings at Kirkwood City Hall, when two police officers - Sgt. William Biggs and Officer Tom Ballman - were among the six public officials and employees who died after an attack by Charles "Cookie" Thornton. Maplewood firefighter Ryan Hummert, 22, was killed in a July 21 ambush, a shooting that also left two Maplewood police officers injured.
The area of Delmar Boulevard near Leland is heavily traveled, with a Starbucks on the first floor of the apartment building, the popular Fitz's Root Beer restaurant across the street and a municipal parking lot nearby.
The officer had not been parked there very long before the shooting occurred, police said.
Another officer in the area heard the shots and rushed to the scene. King was not able to call for assistance.
Several people interviewed said there had been a flurry of police activity in the area earlier in the day Friday. Police declined to say whether there had been any special operations under way or whether the officer's shooting could have had anything to do with any previous work in the area.
Loop businessman Joe Edwards was at work and says he heard the shots about a block away. Edwards is president of the Loop merchants association and owner of Blueberry Hill at 6504 Delmar.
"I heard shots, what I thought were shots," Edwards recalled. "It sounded like five or six, in a couple of bursts."
Edwards looked out his office window. It was just before 10:30 p.m. But he described the scene as calm and quiet. He saw couples walking and a handful of other people strolling in costumes and enjoying the Halloween evening.
Minutes later, Edwards walked downstairs into his restaurant, and the bar manager told him of hearing that an officer had been shot.
Edwards, a fixture in the Loop community, knows most officers by name, including King.
"It's just such a senseless tragedy," he said.
He described the mood among businesspeople in the Loop on Saturday as one of sadness and disbelief. It was reminiscent, he recalled, of the feeling after a robber murdered former Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle Picus in her home 10 years ago a few blocks south of the Loop.
"We have not had anything this severe for a long, long time," Edwards said.
By Saturday, the Loop had mostly returned to normal, with people flocking to its stores and restaurants. Several people interviewed said they were unaware of Friday night's events.
Merchants and residents of the Delmar Loop said the parking spot directly in front of the University Square apartments at 605 Leland - marked by a yellow sign proclaiming "Travel Safe Zone: Someone's Future is in Your Hands" - is almost always occupied by a University City squad car.
"That's one of their connector spots," said Randall Wilson, an employee of a Delmar hair-cutting salon who lives in an apartment just west of the Loop. "You can always connect with an officer there."
The timing and high-traffic location of the shooting has many wondering what happened. "It's especially weird that it happened on Halloween night," said Dwayne Garrett, a University Square resident. "Because the volume of people increases. For someone to take that kind of chance in front of all those people, something had to be going on."
Garrett echoed the sentiments of more than a few workers and shoppers.
"I feel pretty safe here," he said. "But if they'll shoot a cop, they'll shoot anybody."
Steve Giegerich, Paul Koehler, Mark Learman and Michael Sorkin of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch