A local construction contractor declared war on the government of a suburban St. Louis town last night during a city council meeting, killing five, including two uniformed police officers. His rampage ended when alert officers responded to the sound of the gunfire and shot him to death.
Police say Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton approached Kirkwood police Sgt. William Biggs outside city hall, drew a revolver, and shot and killed the veteran officer at close range. He then took the officer's .40-caliber service weapon and went upstairs into the council chambers.
Inside, the alleged gunman turned the staid council meeting into a scene of horror. Witnesses told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Thornton yelled, "Shoot the Mayor!" then drew his revolver and Biggs' duty handgun and opened fire. Officer Tom Ballman was hit in the head and mortally wounded. Also killed were three city officials: Councilwoman Connie Karr, Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, and Councilman Mike Lynch.
City Attorney John Hessel reportedly tried to fight off the shooter by throwing chairs. The chair barrage drove the shooter behind a desk, and he continued to spray bullets at the people in the council chamber. Mayor Mike Swoboda was critically wounded and Todd Smith, a reporter for Suburban Journals, was shot in the hand.
Before Sgt. Biggs died, he was able to hit the alert tone on his radio. Officers rushed to his aid from the police station, which is across a parking lot from city hall. When they heard the shots from the council chambers, they went inside and engaged the gunman. Police say Thornton was killed in the gunfight.
"We want to thank the officers who bravely and heroically came to the rescue of those of us in the council chambers," Dep. Mayor Tom Griffin told the Post-Dispatch.
Thornton was reportedly enraged by the fact that the city had given him numerous tickets for parking construction vehicles outside his home. He had appeared at numerous council meetings to complain about the tickets.
His behavior had led the council to bar him from speaking at meetings. Thornton then sued the city saying that the speech ban was unconstitutional. Late last month a federal judge in nearby St. Louis ruled that he had no grounds for the lawsuit.