Thursday Marks 5 Years Since Kirkwood City Hall Shootings

The tragedy left six dead when a gunman opened fire during a Kirkwood City Council meeting in 2008.

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, marks five years since the Kirkwood City Hall Massacre that left six dead during a city council meeting.

Charles "Cookie" Thornton, a long-time Kirkwood resident, opened fire shortly after a city council meeting commenced Feb. 7, 2008, at Kirkwood City Hall, according to a past STL Today report.

Eight were shot in the incident, and six killed: Kirkwood Police Officers Tom Ballman and William Biggs, Councilwoman Connie Karr, Councilman Mike Lynch, Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, and Thornton, who was shot by police. Then-Mayor Mike Swoboda was also shot and survived through seven months after the tragedy before passing away from complications caused from the gunshot wounds.

With a history of city council disagreements, Thornton had taken the council to court, been arrested, and, according to another STL Today report, was believed to have moved away to Florida in a period of silence just prior to the massacre. A Kirkwood High School graduate, Thornton had been charged and convicted twice with disorderly conduct at council meetings.

This week's city council meeting hopes to be business as usual. With a busy agenda, one thing absent from the outline is any mention recognizing the tragedy five years prior.

"I decided along with city council not to do anything until the end of the meeting," Kirkwood Mayor Art McDonnell told Patch. "There will be a lot of people there, and we want them to be able to think about their business as citizens and as city council."

A small group is expected to meet at the steps of City Hall prior to the council meeting Thursday for prayer and to place flowers in recognition of the lives lost. McDonnell said the meeting may start a little late to accomodate those who choose to participate.

Join the conversation on Kirkwood Patch's Facebook page and see what Patch readers like you remember about Feb. 7, 2008.

McDonnell shared reflections of the Kirkwood community since then and now, emphasizing a movement toward "a community of togetherness and inclusiveness."

"I like to look at the way the community is now," McDonnell said. "The good thing is that we're experiencing everything as a community, not just because of Feb. 7, but because of everything else."

McDonnell added that he thinks a lot about those -- his friends -- lost in the shootings.

"I don't like to dwell on Feb. 7. Those people were all my friends and I think about them a lot," McDonnell told Patch. "I dwell on the very wonderful things about our community and where we are today in comparison."

McDonnell also said something he found interesting was the way the community steps up to help out when "incidents like this" happen.

"I wanted to encourage people who wanted to do something to volunteer for our boards and commissions," McDonnell said. He added intentions to bring people closer at the city council meetings came in the way of welcoming members of the audience prior to the start of meetings.

"We've agreed to a lot of things the city can do and we've done them," McDonnell said. "I think it's a substantial statement to everyone that our city believes in equality and fairness."

Another Kirkwood citizen, Alvin Miller, chimed in with his perspective on Kirkwood then and now. Miller, of Kirkwood High's Class of 1983, is considered the best athlete in school history, and is also regarded as an upstanding citizen of the community.

Miller described the incident as a need for more communication.

"I can compare it to a family when something happens and mom and dad look at one another and say, 'What conversation did we not have with that relative?'" Miller told Patch. "Moving forward, in that family, you make sure you have more conversations so that no other family member may feel a certain way for something like that to happen."

Miller said he had difficulty comparing his feelings when he learned of the massacre to emotions he had previously felt.

"I still haven't found words to describe how I felt. Nothing like that had happened that I had really been in the midst of, so close to me," Miller said.

Miller also implied a need for positive action after the events of Feb. 7, 2008.

"I felt that something had to be done," Miller said. "You can't sit back and say that it has nothing to do with me or you. You have to do something positive."

What do you think? How has the incident shaped/reshaped recent Kirkwood history? How did the massacre impact your life in Kirkwood? What would you change about council meeting safety? Tell us in the comments.

Updated: Feb. 7 at 9:35 a.m.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something