Police captain describes burglars fleeing, shooting at officers
Independence Police Officer Thomas Wagstaff — shot in the head by a burglar — was in critical condition Wednesday night at a local hospital, surrounded by his wife, two teen sons and church pastor.
Two people were in custody. Prosecutors said any criminal charges would not be filed until Thursday.
The shooting happened as officers responded to a burglary in progress at 9:43 a.m. in the 3600 block of South Delaware Avenue, Independence police said. After the officers arrived, the burglars opened fire while trying to flee. Police returned fire.
The intruders fled the scene in an SUV taken from the home and led police on a chase to the area of East 23rd Street and South Cedar Avenue. When one person bailed out of the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot, he reportedly was holding a handgun.
Police took the man and another person into custody.
Wagstaff, a 15-year veteran with the department, survived a surgery that lasted several hours. His pastor from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Raytown stayed with the family at the hospital all day. The church activated its prayer chain.
“They are just a nice family,” said Christina Brooks, who attends church with the wounded officer and his family and works at the same Raytown elementary school as his wife, an art teacher. “We are really sad for them right now and hope it goes OK.”
Wagstaff enjoys yard work, grilling steaks and attending his sons’ sporting events, Brooks said. The oldest boy, who is 16, is learning to drive. The younger boy recently turned 13, she said. The officer and his wife, who both hail from the St. Louis area, met in college, Brooks said.
Members of the community and law enforcement gathered for a prayer service at Eastside Baptist Church late Wednesday.
Neighbor Tracy Crookham said she and her daughter saw and heard police shoot into the home that was burglarized.
Crookham said officers surrounded a garage and fired at least seven shots into it, then pulled out two intruders.
“All of a sudden, we heard these gunshots,” Crookham said.
The injured officer was rushed away in an ambulance.
“I was nervous. I had my daughter in the house,” Crookham said. “It was very scary. It was happening in the back of our house.”
A neighbor of Crookham’s, Kathy Tempel, said she was feeding her grandson when she heard, “Boom. Boom. Boom.”
“I thought it was a transformer, but they were gunshots,” Tempel said.
She yelled to police that she was inside her house with a child. Police ordered her to stay inside and take cover.
Immediately after the shooting, police set up a large crime scene at 36th and Delaware.
A large number of officers and crime scene investigators from multiple agencies collected evidence from a house that sustained extensive damage during the incident.
Detectives obtained a search warrant for the house on Delaware Avenue after the incident. The Kansas City violent crimes unit is leading the investigation.
They picked through debris, collecting evidence. The door to the garage, which was on the side of the house, was missing its lower portions.
The house, in a residential neighborhood, is near Luff Elementary School.
By the afternoon, a drone flew over the crime scene at 36th and Delaware.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was at the scene. Independence Police Chief Brad Halsey was out of town Wednesday morning and trying to get a flight back to Independence.
In a statement, Baker said she and her office offer their thoughts and prayers to the injured officer.
Any criminal charges related to the shooting are not expected until Thursday, Baker said in the statement.
Support for Wagstaff started pouring in on social media from police agencies in the metro area.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens tweeted, “Today, a policeman in Independence was shot. He is in critical condition. Please join us in prayer for him, his family, and his department.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Johnson County sherriff’s office posted on its Twitter account:
“Prayers to our brothers & sisters in blue & healing thoughts for the Independence PD officer injured this morning.”
A tweet from the Clay County sheriff ended with an emoji of hands in prayer: “Our thoughts & prayers are with our Independence Police family, the injured officer and their loved ones.”