Mike Rice; The Kansas City Star March 19, 2001, Monday Metropolitan Edition Copyright 2001 The Kansas City Star Co. The Kansas City Star March 19, 2001, Monday Metropolitan Edition
(INDEPENDENCE, Kansas) -- Just three weeks from his retirement after 32 years of service, Officer Terry Foster was shot to death Saturday night while answering a domestic disturbance call.
A 34-year-old man shot Foster in a house in the 3600 block of Ralston Avenue, then set the house on fire. The man was killed in the blaze.
Police did not release the identity of the gunman. Neighbors said the man lived with his parents at the home and was known for his strange behavior.
The fire, which was intensified by a closetful of oxygen tanks belonging to the gunman's father, burned all night, destroyed the house and rattled the quiet neighborhood near Blue Ridge Mall.
The parents, who were not injured, called police about 9:45 p.m. because their son was acting violently toward them, said Detective Gary Tucker.
The parents, Tucker said, wanted police to help take him to a hospital. An ambulance also was on the scene.
Foster, 54, became the fifth Independence police officer and the first since 1966 to be killed in the line of duty. He was shot three times in the head with a rifle and died at the scene, Tucker said.
Other officers at the scene were not injured.
"This is a tremendous loss, especially with him being on the eve of his retirement," said Independence Mayor Ron Stewart, a retired police captain who knew Foster. "This will impact the Police Department and the city for a long time.
"It brings home how significant one's life is and how vulnerable a police officer can be."
Police and neighbors gave this account of what happened after Foster and other officers arrived at the house:
The man locked himself in an upstairs bedroom. Police tried to negotiate with him and talked to him through the locked door for about an hour, said Sgt. John Passiglia.
Finally, the man asked to speak to his mother. Police honored the request, but when they forced a door open he began firing. Foster was hit three times in the head. Other officers pulled Foster from the house. They went back inside the house and felt an explosion.
Wanda Graham, who lives across the street, said: "We heard an explosion, then a big 'whoosh'. I looked outside and the house was a ball of fire."
Then, Graham said, a "rat-a-tat tat" sound came from the burning house. She speculated that it was oxygen tanks exploding. Tucker said the father was on oxygen and had about 15 tanks stored in a closet.
A house next door received minor damage, and some houses nearby were evacuated.
"Cops were screaming at us with their guns drawn, telling us to get out of our house," said neighbor Deb Johnson.
Because of the exploding oxygen tanks and because police were not sure whether the gunman was still inside, firefighters could not go near the house. Instead, they fought the fire by shooting water from about 150 feet away above two adjacent houses, said Fire Chief Larry Hodge.
Authorities do not know how the man set the fire. They recovered his body in the garage about 8 a.m. Sunday.
Relatives who were at the house Sunday afternoon declined to comment. Police had been called to the house several times because of the son, Passiglia said, but he had never been violent.
Dennis Padberg, who lives across the street, said the man would often work on a Ford Bronco and a mid-1970s Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the driveway in the middle of the night.
"He would rev the engines up, but he never took them out of the driveway," Padberg said.
Deb Johnson said she sometimes saw him walking a Doberman down the street before 6 a.m. Her husband, Tom, said he often saw him mumbling incoherently in the street.
"He had the neighborhood on edge," said Wanda Graham. "We never knew if something would set him off."
Foster, who lived in Liberty, would have turned 55 on April 10. He joined the police force in October 1968. He had been a detective until going back to patrol about 10 years ago, Passiglia said.
"He never had anything bad to say about anybody," Passiglia said.
Other colleagues said he had recently remarried and was talking about retiring as soon as he turned 55, the age at which police are eligible for retirement benefits.
Stewart said Foster was a bailiff at City Council meetings and was a dedicated police officer. He had moved to the night shift recently to add more money to his retirement.
"He was a good, steady officer," Stewart said. "Even when he grumbled about the job, he would smile when doing it."