Gunman With a Gripe Exacts Revenge at City Hall

Police in St. Louis suburb end spree by shooting enraged contractor dead.

ByABC News via logo
February 8, 2008, 8:15 AM

Feb. 8, 2008 — -- The gunman who killed five people at a city council meeting in Missouri left a suicide note on his bed warning, "The truth will come out in the end," before he went on the deadly shooting spree, according to the Associated Press.

The gunman, identified as Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, stormed into the Kirkwood, Mo., meeting shouting "Shoot the mayor!" and began firing a gun. Thornton was carrying a grudge against the mayor and other members of the city council, according to many Kirkwood residents.

Thornton killed two police officers and three city officials before he was shot and killed by police. Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda is in critical condition at a local hospital, and a reporter was wounded but in stable condition, a hospital spokesman told the Associated Press.

The shooting stunned residents of the close-knit St. Louis suburb.

"I saw Cookie Thornton walk up to a police officer. He was carrying a sign, I couldn't read it," said Alan Hopfl, who was at the council meeting Thursday when the shooting started. "He was carrying a rather large silver revolver, and he shot the officer."

Thornton was a regular presence at the meetings and was usually verbally disruptive, according to many in the community. He was a contractor who'd been fighting city hall for years and had collected $18,000 in fines and code violations.

In 2006, he was hauled away after disrupting two council meetings. Thornton sued the city, contending his rights had been violated. Just 10 days ago, a federal judge dismissed his claim.

Most of Thornton's anger seemed directed at the mayor.

"Cookie would berate the mayor and city officials," Hopfl said. "It was very unclear what point he was trying to make. It just seemed like he had a gripe against them."

Hopfl said that while Thornton was antagonistic at meetings, he never suspected the contractor would be capable of violence.

Michael Moore, a friend of Thornton's, said that the Cookie he knew was an educated, positive, church-going man.

"He was not disturbed, he was not crazy," Moore told "Some people just have a breaking point."

Thornton's breaking point came after what he saw as years of unwarranted harassment by city officials, who were on a mission to shut down his construction business, Moore said.

Thornton believed his problems with government officials were a symptom of the city's racial divide, Moore said.

"He wanted them to listen," Moore said. "For over seven years, he tried to get the council to listen, he tried to get the courts to listen, he tried to get the media to listen. Now the whole world wants to listen."

Thornton's own mother seemed to confirm her son's motive.

"Well, the ones he shot I guess were the ones he felt had done him harm," said Annie Bell Thornton.

Residents of Kirkwood were still trying to process the shooting deaths of people they knew so well.

"I have a heaviness in my heart right now because so many of them are my friends," said resident Jeanie Voight.

The town had not seen a murder in the last decade before Thursday night.

"There's going to be a lot of grieving to do," Hopfl said. "It will be something very difficult for the town to get through."