KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This week`s Overland Park fire at CityPlace may have rivaled South Kansas City's 71 Highway explosion in size, but in no way compares to the number of lives it touched.
That 1988 fire killed six firefighters and five people were sentenced to life in prison. Earlier in March, one of the people convicted, Bryan Sheppard, walked out of prison a free man.
Sheppard was the youngest of the group, 17 at the time. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling required a judge to give him a new sentence.
"I couldn't breathe when he said 20 years, I don`t think anyone in the courtroom could," Sheppard said two weeks after his release from federal prison, since he had already served more time than the new sentence.
"Somebody has to answer for a crime," Cassie McKarnin, daughter of a fallen firefighter said.
The investigation appeared on Unsolved Mysteries in the 1990s. Federal prosecutors mostly built their case through the testimony of jailhouse informants who said the group set the fire to cover up a highway construction site theft, not realizing trailers were loaded with powerful explosives. Many of those witnesses have since recanted.
On his 46th birthday Sheppard walked out of federal prison and hugged his daughter.
"I didn't want to let go, I was just so happy," Ashley Keeney said.
She`ll turn 28 next week, she was born just a few months before he was arrested the first time for the fire.
'It was almost like I was a figment of her imagination, a letter in the mail, a card or a little gift or something," Sheppard said of watching his daughter grow up in pictures.
Sheppard could have been free a long time ago. He says he and his four co-defendants were offered five-year sentences to turn on one another.
"I didn`t take the deal, even though my attorney told me I was going to get a life sentence," Sheppard said.
Sheppard doesn't regret the decision, but now has a new burden to bear as others including his childhood best friend Richard Brown remain behind bars.
"I feel guilty that I`m out here and they are not," he said.
He`s trying to make the most of his freedom spending time with his daughter and grandchildren. One of the first things he did was go to listen to the opera "Dead Man Walking" at Kauffman Center.
Sheppard received one last piece of mail the day he walked out of prison, from the family of one of those firefighters. It said if he`s not guilty he should find out who is.
"My whole goal was to leave, disappear. Now that I`m out and my legal team wants to continue fighting for the truth of this thing, I`m going to stay right here, I have no intentions of going anywhere," Sheppard said.
He believes the truth could lie in the black ink behind heavily redacted documents. A 2011 Justice Department review of the case found two new possible suspects, but not even his attorney can find out who they are.
"Everyone deserves to know the truth about this thing. It`s been a long time, the wrong people are incarcerated and the government has been hiding information from all of us, I want the truth to come out for everybody," he said.
Sheppard said in his first few days of freedom he rode down 71 Highway and was amazed how much has changed. Just off of the highway, a memorial to the fallen firefighters with six crosses now sits at East 87th Street and Blue River Road.