AP, February 8, 2008
A gunman carrying a grudge against City Hall left a suicide note on his bed warning “The truth will come out in the end,” before he went on a deadly shooting spree at a council meeting, his brother told The Associated Press Friday.
Arthur Thornton, 42, said in an interview at the family’s home that he knew his brother was responsible for the killings when he read the one-line note shortly after word of the shootings was broadcast.
After storming the meeting and killing five people Thursday night, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton was fatally shot by law enforcers. Friends and relatives said he had a long-standing feud with the city, and he had lost a federal free-speech lawsuit against the St. Louis suburb just 10 days earlier. At earlier meetings, he said he had received 150 tickets against his business.
Another brother defended his actions, calling it an act of war against the city.
“My brother Charles, he was in diplomatic talks with the city of Kirkwood to try to resolve these issues and therefore, he ended up and going ahead and going to war with an army of one,” Gerald Thornton, the gunman’s brother, told FOX News.
The victims were identified Friday as Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, Officer Tom Ballman, Officer William Biggs and council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr. Flowers and balloons were placed outside City Hall Friday in their honor.
The city’s mayor, Mike Swoboda, was in critical condition at an intensive care unit, St. John’s Mercy Medical Center spokeswoman Lynne Beck said. Another victim, Suburban Journals newspaper reporter Todd Smith, was in satisfactory condition, Beck said.
The gunman killed one officer outside City Hall, then walked into the council chambers, shot another and continued pulling the trigger, Panus said. A witness said the gunman yelled “Shoot the mayor!” as he fired shots in the chambers.
As the man fired at City Attorney John Hessel, Hessel tried to fight off the attacker by throwing chairs, McNichols said. The shooter then moved behind the desk where the council sits and fired more shots at council members.
Thornton was often a contentious presence at the council’s meetings; he had twice been convicted of disorderly conduct for disrupting meetings in May 2006.
The city had ticketed Thornton’s demolition and asphalt business, Cookco Construction, for parking his commercial vehicles in the neighborhood, said Ron Hodges, a friend who lives in the community. The tickets were “eating at him,” Hodges said.
“He felt that as a black contractor he was being singled out,” said Hodges, who is black. “I guess he thought mentally he had no more recourse. That’s not an excuse.”
Franklin McCallie, a retired Kirkwood High School principal who once attended Thornton’s wedding, said his longtime friend once told him that the city would drop what had become thousands of dollars in fines if Thornton “would just follow the law.”
“In our long talks, I begged him to do this,” McCallie said in a statement e-mailed Friday to the AP. “But Cookie said it was a matter of principle with him and that he wanted to sue the city for millions of dollars.”
McCallie called Thornton’s deadly rampage “a brutal and inexcusable act, the act of a person who was not in his right mind when he did it.”
In a federal lawsuit stemming from his arrests during two meetings just weeks apart, Thornton insisted that Kirkwood officials violated his constitutional rights to free speech by barring him from speaking at the meetings.
But a judge in St. Louis tossed out the lawsuit Jan. 28, writing that “any restrictions on Thornton’s speech were reasonable, viewpoint neutral, and served important governmental interests.”
Another brother, Gerald Thornton, said the legal setback may have been his brother’s final straw. “He has (spoken) on it as best he could in the courts, and they denied all rights to the access of protection and he took it upon himself to go to war and end the issue,” he said.
Outside the house, a tattered U.S. flag flew at half-staff, not far from a handwritten sign reading simply, “RIP Cookie. Only God can judge you!!!!!”