40 years later: Remembering Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster

9th Precinct police officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie

On the night of January 27, 1972, rookie NYPD officers Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster were ambushed while on patrol along Avenue B at East Eleventh Street.

Only recently joining the police force after a stint as combat marines in Vietnam, Laurie and Foster were approached from behind by a group of individuals who opened fire on the unsuspecting pair. The war veterans never had a chance to react and fell to a total of fourteen bullets.

The murderers were tied to a radical splinter cell of the Black Liberation Army, which according the Justice Department, was suspected in the murders of 13 police officers nation wide between 1970 and 1976.
 
It was the second such slaying by this group in this city — the first being officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones, ambushed in the same fashion on the Upper West Side on May 21, 1971.

The Laurie and Foster shooting prompted one of the biggest manhunts in city history and pushed an already tense police department into a frantic state of alert.

According to My Life in the NYPD by James Wagner and Patrick Picciarelli, cops volunteered their off-days to follow patrol cars in civilian vehicles and (before stringent department regulations) many opted to carry high-powered semi-automatic weapons as backups to their police revolvers:

“The public, surprisingly, was on our side and sympathized with our plight. While most New Yorkers don’t necessarily like their cops, they’re not crazy about people who shoot at them…”

Twenty-three year old Rocco Laurie, a native Staten Islander, was a champion shot-putter at Port Richmond High School before enlisting in the war, where he saw heavy combat as a member of the 3rd Platoon of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. Less than a year after returning from Vietnam, Laurie joined the police force, on July 1, 1970.

Twenty-Two year old Queens native Gregory Foster joined the police force on December 1, 1970 after serving as an M-60 machine-gunner for G Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Division in the Vietnam War. Foster was awarded a Silver Star for risking his life to save his fellow marines while being pinned down by enemy fire.

Over 10,000 people turned out for the funeral ceremonies of officers Laurie and Foster, held just a few hours apart at the Church of Blessed Sacrament in Staten Island and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, respectively.

The shooting made national headlines and in 1975, a television movie named “Foster and Laurie” retold the story of the slain heroes, starring future Rocky Balboa sweetheart Talia Shire as widow Adelaide Laurie.

As a touching tribute, Intermediate School 72 in the New Springville section of Staten Island was renamed in honor of Rocco Laurie in 2009.

Today, on the 40th anniversary of the slayings, the New York Post published an interview with the officer’s widows: Two police widows reflect on ’72 slays

UPDATE:  PS 397 of Brooklyn was also named in honor of the fallen heroes. Opened in 1975, students at the school were asked to come up with an official name for the school and in 1976, “Foster-Laurie Elementary School” was chosen. A ceremony was held in May of that year.

Eric Ferrara

I'm a 4th generation Lower East Sider, professional NYC history author, movie & TV consultant & personality, founder of Lower East Side History Project, and real estate agent at LOHO Realty.

4 thoughts on “40 years later: Remembering Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster

  1. They have probably already been killed/murdered by their black brothers. Just hoping
    After all aren't the black folks responsible for killing each other without any cries from the black community or Sharp ton or Oboma ???

  2. Its time to bring home those responsible for this cowardice act. Fourty years is time enough.
    We never forgot. RIP

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