The Kirkwood City
Council shooting occurred on February 7, 2008, in
Kirkwood, Missouri, United States. A gunman went on a
shooting rampage at a public meeting in the city hall,
leaving six people dead and two others injured.
Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton shot
one police officer with a revolver across the street
from city hall and took the officer's handgun before
entering city hall. Thornton reached council chambers
with these two weapons shortly after the meeting began.
There, he shot a police officer, the
public works director, two council members, the mayor,
and a reporter. In total, the gunman killed five and
wounded two others. He was then shot and killed by
The perpetrator, Charles Lee Thornton,
52, was a lifelong resident of Meacham Park, a century-old,
modest-sized, historically-black-super majority
neighborhood in an initially unincorporated part of St.
Louis County, Missouri.
In 1992, a ballot proposition
appeared under which Kirkwood, an abutting,
comparatively prosperous city with only a small
percentage of African-American residents, would annex
the low-income Meacham Park area. After spirited debate
and campaigning, residents of both Meacham Park and
Kirkwood approved the annexation. Upon annexation, the
municipal codes of Kirkwood became the law for Meacham
Park, which had previously lacked municipal codes due to
its unincorporated status.
During the 1990s, Thornton was active
in a number of civic and charitable organizations in
Kirkwood. He ran for Kirkwood City Council in 1994,
Via eminent domain, part of the
Meacham Park area was taken for a large commercial
development in the late 1990s in a tax increment
financing project. Thornton, who foresaw that his
construction company would get contracts in this
development, was a public proponent of it, in this
respect opposing the views of some others in Meacham
He sought and received some work for
his construction company during this commercial
development. Family members and friends have said that
he became resentful over having gotten less than he felt
he had been promised.
In 1999, Thornton filed a complaint
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
alleging racial discrimination in the awarding of
contracts he had wanted. It has been reported that
he had never actually bid on the contracts.
In 1996, Thornton had begun receiving
citations from Kirkwood for violations of city codes. In
June, 1998, he pleaded guilty to 6 violations; and
agreed to a five-phase plan to bring his property and
his paving business into conformance with city codes
within two years.
But this plan was not fulfilled, and
Thornton began to leave new tickets unpaid. By late
2001, Thornton had been cited many dozens more times by
Kirkwood officials under municipal code enforcement
actions for operating an unlicensed business from his
home, in a (since the 1992 annexation) residentially-zoned
incorporated area; illegal dumping; destruction of
property; parking his construction company's equipment
near his home as he had always done; and for numerous
other municipal code violations.
Kirkwood said in a state court
memorandum in 2003 that by May 2002, multiple trials in
city and county courts had concluded with Thornton
pleading guilty to, or being found guilty of, more than
100 of 114 charges. Charges were dropped, or Thornton
was found not guilty, on at least a dozen other charges.
Thornton said later in federal court,
and at Kirkwood city council meetings, that he had
received more than 150 tickets. Courts ordered that he
pay nearly twenty thousand dollars in fines and court
costs. Links to files showing scanned copies of most of
the citations have been placed on-line as part of an
investigative story by a local television station.
Thornton filed for bankruptcy in
December 1999. During the bankruptcy process, he was put
on a plan to get out of debt: he would pay $4,425 a
month for five years. But Thornton stopped making the
payments within four months, and moved the portion of
his business that had for a while occupied a rental
property in a nearby commercially zoned area, back into
his residentially zoned neighborhood.
Thornton never paid any of the fines
from the Kirkwood code violation cases concluded in 2001
and 2002. Instead, he appeared regularly at city council
meetings complaining of persecution, fraud and coverup
by city officials. In 2003, he had signs on the side of
his van, in which he vowed he would never again "accept
lies from the city of Kirkwood".
Thornton also repeatedly sued the
city and Kirkwood public works director Ken Yost in
state court unsuccessfully during a period of several
years in the early 2000s. From around 2004 onward
Thornton, despite having no education, training or
experience in the practice of law, acted as his own
In 2005, the Missouri Court of
Appeals opinion dismissing his suit against Kirkwood and
Ken Yost for malicious prosecution and civil rights
violations termed his brief "largely incomprehensible".
After several years of the lawsuits,
he declined an offer from the city to let his fines
remain unpaid in exchange for dropping his last lawsuit
against the city and no longer disrupting council
On May 13, 2002, Thornton was
convicted of assault on Ken Yost, Kirkwood's public
works director, who later became one of the murder
He was also arrested and handcuffed
at two city council meetings in 2006. The first occasion
was May 18, 2006. Thornton was charged with disorderly
conduct and was released.
On June 1, 2006, the council
considered resolutions to ban Thornton from attending or
speaking at meetings. However, both were defeated;
Kirkwood mayor Mike Swoboda stated then that, "We will
act with integrity and continue to deal with him at
these council proceedings. However we will not allow Mr.
Thornton, or any other person, to disrupt these
On June 24, 2007, Thornton was
charged with misdemeanor assault after a struggle
outside PJ's Restaurant in Kirkwood. Thornton had been
picketing outside the restaurant and began stomping the
owner until subdued by bystanders. The criminal case was
pending. Carrying signs complaining about Kirkwood
officials, Thornton often picketed in non-governmental
but high-traffic locations in and near Kirkwood.
On January 18, 2007, Thornton sued
the city in federal court for $350. On March 15, 2007,
Thornton entered a motion with the court with the
purpose of amending the January 18 suit in several ways,
including adding a claim for $14 million in damages. On
June 21, 2007, a federal judge denied the motion to
amend the original federal lawsuit. Thereafter, only the
remaining (original) suit, which sought but $350 in
damages, was in contention.
Yet as late as February 1, 2008, --
more than six months after the attempt to amend for an
increased claim of damages had lost, and three days
after the entire remaining suit had been dismissed --
Thornton continued to tell friends of his hopes of
winning millions from the suit.
A federal judge in St. Louis,
Missouri ruled on January 28, 2008 on the lawsuit by
Thornton in which he claimed his free speech rights were
violated by Kirkwood officials preventing him from
speaking at meetings. The judge dismissed his claims,
citing his convictions for disorderly conduct at the
2006 meetings and concluding, "Because Thornton does not
have a First Amendment right to engage in irrelevant
debate and to voice repetitive, personal, virulent
attacks against Kirkwood and its city officials during
the comment portion of a city council public hearing,
his claim fails as a matter of law."
Included among documents from
Thornton's federal lawsuit are court filings, evidence,
judgments, etc. from several of the city, county and
state court cases, both criminal and civil, in which
Thornton had been a plaintiff or a defendant.
Witnesses, relatives, and
acquaintances of Thornton reported that his motive for
the shooting spree was anger about not receiving
construction contracts he believed he was promised, his
parking tickets, disputes with local government, and
finally the dismissal of his federal lawsuit.
Thornton parked his van on the side
street near Kirkwood City Hall and saw Kirkwood Police
Sgt. William Biggs, who was on duty but walking across
the street to pick up dinner nearby. In a parking lot
across the street from City Hall, Thornton confronted
Biggs and shot him with a .44 magnum revolver, killing
him instantly. Before Thornton fired, Biggs had hit a
distress signal on his radio to summon additional police
Thornton took Biggs' .40 caliber
handgun and went inside City Hall. There, in the city
council chambers, The Pledge of Allegiance had just been
recited and the mayor was starting the city council
meeting with 30 people attending. Thornton then entered
the room quietly from the back with both of his weapons
concealed but soon got close to his intended victims. He
first fatally shot Kirkwood Police Officer Tom Ballman
in the head and continued shooting other victims at
close range while reportedly repeating the phrase "Shoot
He fatally shot council members
Connie Karr and Michael H.T. Lynch, and Public Works
Director Ken Yost. He shot Mayor Mike Swoboda twice in
the head and left him for dead. Witnesses reported about
15 gunshots. Ignoring the four other council members,
Thornton chased City Attorney John Hessel, who slowed
Thornton by throwing chairs at him until escaping from
All of this gunfire was audible at
the Kirkwood police department building, located across
a small parking lot from the rear entrance to city hall.
Two Kirkwood police officers rushed to the council
chambers. There, Thornton fired on them from behind a
desk. The officers returned fire; Thornton, who still
had rounds left, sustained two wounds and died on the
In total, Thornton killed five and
wounded two people during his shooting spree. Mayor Mike
Swoboda was taken to St. John's Mercy Medical Center in
The mayor was shot in the lower jaw,
with the bullet exiting from his cheek, and was also
shot in the back of his head. He underwent surgery on
February 7 and again on February 8, the latter surgery
lasting three hours.
Mayor Swoboda's condition was
upgraded after a few days to 'serious', and after two
weeks to 'satisfactory'. Since then, he has begun eating
soft food and talking. His family said that he had no
memory of the shootings. He will need reconstructive
surgery for his face; other long term health effects are
On April 18, Swoboda returned to city
hall to briefly address the last city council meeting
before the expiration of his second and (due to term
limits) final term as mayor. A reporter for the local
Suburban Journals, Todd Smith, was also injured. He was
shot in the hand and was released from the hospital
within 24 hours.
1. Tom Ballman, 37, police officer, killed
2. Kenneth Yost, 61, public works director, killed
3. Mike Swoboda, 69, mayor, orig. critical; later
released from hospital
4. Michael H.T. Lynch, 63, council member, killed
5. Connie Karr, 51, council member, killed
6. Todd Smith, 36, reporter, released from hospital
7. William Biggs, 50, police officer, killed
On February 8, Deputy Mayor Timothy
E. Griffin thanked the police for coming courageously to
the aid of those in the council chambers, saying that "this
is a tragedy of untold magnitude." Police Chief Jack
Plummer added, "we will move past this."
Gerald Thornton, one of Charles
Thornton's brothers, told CNN that his brother Charles
thought his "constitutional protections" were violated
and that his act was the only option. In other
interviews he said that "my brother went to war tonight
with the government," that he could not resolve his
problems through communication, and that "this was not a
random rampage." Gerald Thornton himself served 5 years
in Missouri prison for fatally stabbing a man in 1996.
Gerald Thornton's television and
newspaper interviews were conducted and published before
the news media had checked and published his criminal
Charles Thornton left a one-line note
on his bed, saying: "The truth will come out in the end"
or "The truth will win out in the end." The note was
considered to be a suicide note, indicating that
Thornton may have intended to die in the shooting. One
of Thornton's brothers, Arthur Thornton, said that his
family was "truly, truly sorry" for the shootings.
Stream added that the shooter had many problems with the
city and for an unknown reason, "he just snapped."
The Meacham Park Neighborhood
Association (MPNA) met the afternoon of February 8th. In
attendance were 100 people, including Thornton's mother,
and a "procession of ministers" who spoke at the
Many there spoke sympathetically of
Thornton. Elder Harry Jones of Men and Women of Faith
Ministries said "This is something that took place over
time, and perhaps it could have been avoided. There
always has been a great divide between Kirkwood and
Thornton's mother spoke last, saying
"We've got to do things the Bible way. I'm sad that this
happened." A blog entry that same day from a minister
who used to live and work in Kirkwood provides some
background about the relationship between Meacham Park
People who had lived in [Meacham
Park] for generations were paid to move out so that
Wal Mart could move in. [They] were made promises
about how the money the city made from Wal Mart
would be given to improve the living conditions in
Meacham Park. When I met with the MPNA, there were
residents who had been organizing and feeling
frustrated for quite a while. They felt that the
city officials were not following through on their
promises and that the Meacham Park residents made a
grave mistake in trusting the city officials....we
were able to get our hands on some financial
documents that flat out proved that the city
promised money that they had not paid but there were
legal loopholes that seemed insurmountable without a
sea of money to devote to legal fees. When I stepped
down from my work with Meacham Park, I knew that the
frustrations were far from resolved.
The town of Kirkwood mourned on
February 8, with flags at half-staff, and with prayer
services and vigils being held throughout the day. A
vigil was held across the street from city hall, with
black fabric held over the entrance of it and a memorial
of flowers, at 7 P.M. local time, about 24 hours after
Notes were left with the flowers,
some addressing the deceased, one note inside purple
tulips saying "Thank you Tom [Ballman], for being our
friend. We will never forget you." Outside of the
Kirkwood police department building various flowers and
an American flag were laid in memoriam of the two
officers killed during the shooting.
Charles Lee 'Cookie' Thornton: Behind the smile
By Stephen Deere and Doug Moore - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In his hands were a bank ledger, an envelope of money and a photo album.
He knocked on the door of Chuck Runnels' home and
flashed that wide, toothy smile that made everyone feel comfortable
calling him "Cookie."
It was Feb. 7, three hours before Charles Lee "Cookie"
Thornton walked through the doors of City Hall carrying two handguns.
Three hours before six people would be dead, Thornton among them.
"I need you to do me a favor," Thornton said.
Runnels said Thornton wanted him to hold on to the
money and photos from a civic group they had helped to start. Thornton
didn't say why. Runnels never thought to ask. The friends had known each
other since kindergarten.
"I automatically assumed he was going to Florida for
a couple of weeks," Runnels said. "I wish I would have said, 'Cookie,
why are you dropping this off?'"
Now a series of "if-onlys" flit through Runnels' mind.
Did he miss a sign that something was wrong? Could he have changed
anything with a question?
But no one seemed to know the level of anguish behind
Thornton's smile. His deception. His delusion. His demons.
Sure, most folks around town knew about the spectacle
of Thornton's protests against City Hall. The histrionics at meetings.
The more than $20,000 Kirkwood had fined him for
parking and other code violations? That was the least of his problems.
He had used his parents' two homes like a personal
ATM, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans, then squandering
it all. The dump trucks he bought for his demolition and asphalt
business had been repossessed. About a year before the killings, the IRS
took out two liens against Thornton for more than $200,000.
And yet, Thornton always talked as though fortune was
just around the corner. He would tell friends and family that he was
doing "FAN-TAS-TIC," stretching out the word as if doing so could
somehow make it true.
At least once a week, Thornton stopped by Runnels'
house to chat. This time, Runnels offered him dinner. A hamburger, fried
up in a skillet. The two sat on Runnels' leather sofa and watched NFL
highlights on the same TV that by the end of the night would broadcast
Thornton's face and the words "crazed killer."
A PERCEPTION OF SUCCESS
He hung the sign on his office door: "World
Headquarters of Cookco Construction."
In 1999, Cookie Thornton leased a run-down service
station on Kirkwood Road. He swept it clean, painted it and talked of
the prosperity that would soon be his.
"Everything at the time looked like he was on his way
up," said Thornton's former attorney, Michael Gibbons, now a state
In reality, Thornton was almost $500,000 in debt.
Between 1992 and 1998, he had failed to file quarterly withholding tax
returns 22 times. He owed his ex-wife more than $10,000 in child support
for a daughter living in Florida.
Friends and family said Thornton never told them he
was getting deeper into debt.
"It's not like he's going to go out on the porch and
scream and shout it," Runnels said.
In the mid-1990s, when developers targeted the
Meacham Park neighborhood where Thornton grew up, he supported their
efforts. He told friends that plans to build a Wal-Mart and other retail
spots would generate numerous jobs and business for himself.
Thornton's relatives say he was promised a good
portion of the demolition work in exchange for his support. At least,
that's what he told them. City leaders say they told Thornton only that
minority-owned businesses within Meacham Park would get preference.
But Thornton would never put together a formal bid,
and he leveraged his business for work he never had.
"He went out and bought a construction truck and put
himself into debt," said Rosalind Williams, Kirkwood's former director
of community development.
Paul Ward, a former council member, tried to help
Thornton put together bids — a fruitless attempt Thornton just couldn't
seem to appreciate.
"He believed that because he lived there he was
guaranteed work, and that was that," Ward said.
Thornton did get a few demolition contracts — between
$60,000 and $80,000 worth of work, Ward recalled. About 1995, when one
of Thornton's competitors won a majority of the contracts, Thornton sued
the developer and his competitor, alleging racism. The case was tossed
"He does this and is dismayed that they didn't want
to use him anymore?" Ward said.
Thornton tried to get the city to force the developer
to rehire him, said John Hessel, Kirkwood's city attorney.
"I said, 'Cookie, we can't do that,'" Hessel said. "That
was the first time I saw him getting really mad."
Claiming he had been betrayed, Thornton used his dump
trucks to block a competitor's access to job sites. When police officers
showed up and asked him to move, "he would just blow his air horns,"
DEBTS RISE; TICKETS MOUNT
Cookie Thornton filed for bankruptcy protection in
December 1999 and was put on a plan to get out of debt. He would pay
$4,425 a month for five years.
Within four months, Thornton stopped making the
Unable to pay the $1,675 monthly rent for his "World
Headquarters," he was evicted just six months after he opened shop. He
was forced to move his business back to his parents' Meacham Park house.
He stored his equipment on a lot across the street, a code violation
that would spark his battles with Kirkwood government.
"He came across as a really good businessman,"
Gibbons said. "He really wasn't. The dream kept slipping away."
Meanwhile, Meacham Park was changing. What was once a
cluster of aging homes and pockmarked streets in unincorporated St.
Louis County was looking up. In the late 1990s, the city was using
public money to invest in the annexed neighborhood, building new houses
and renovating old ones. No longer were city leaders willing to turn a
blind eye to obvious code violations.
Thornton received a slew of citations, ranging from
parking a commercial vehicle in a residential neighborhood to illegal
dumping. In 2000, Thornton got nearly 60 tickets. But that didn't deter
him. The next year, he got 39.
When the city held court, Thornton often was the only
one on the docket. He eventually amassed more than $20,000 in fines.
All along, he rarely discussed his finances, instead
focusing his frustration on the city. He started showing up at City
Council meetings in 2000, hurling insults at council members. He
regularly came with props: bananas, chunks of asphalt, bales of hay and
a poster of a donkey.
The man and his antics, everyone knew about. The man
with mounting debts, however, remained under wraps.
"We just did not know that person," said the Rev.
John Sykes, Thornton's pastor for 15 years.
FAITH IN GOD AND COOKIE
The display sits on a table in the living room. A
balloon with the words "I love you" dangles from a photograph of a
smiling Cookie Thornton.
Looking at it, Annie Bell Thornton still can't
believe her son shot and killed five people. For so long, she had put
her faith in her son, one of nine Thornton children.
"He was a child of God," said Annie Bell, 83.
She can't recall exactly why she gave Cookie power of
attorney years ago, except that it was something God had directed her to
do. Long after the family's home in Meacham Park had been paid off,
Cookie refinanced the house for $72,000 in 2003. A year later, he
refinanced his parents' retirement home in St. Petersburg, Fla., for
Annie Bell isn't sure why he refinanced the homes, or
what happened to the money.
"The Lord told me it was in his hands," she said. "God
hadn't failed me yet."
Cookie needed his brother, Arthur Thornton, to co-sign
the refinancing of the St. Petersburg home. Arthur said he tentatively
agreed, but his brother never passed along the loan documents and
ultimately ended up forging his name.
"It was a bad deal," said Arthur, who rarely spoke to
That didn't stop Cookie from refinancing the St.
Petersburg home again last year, this time getting a loan for $352,000.
Records show the house went into foreclosure in January.
Since Cookie's death, the family found out that the
Meacham Park house also is in foreclosure, and, at one point, Cookie's
mother and brother Gerald Thornton, who lived with Annie Bell, were days
away from being homeless. They persuaded the lender to delay the sale of
the home — originally scheduled for last month. Plans call for Maureen
Thornton, Cookie's second wife, to transfer ownership of the house to
her mother-in-law, who will try to set up a payment plan with the bank.
Maureen and Cookie met in Kirkwood and were married
in 1995. She moved to Florida four years ago, and he occasionally went
there to visit her. She declined to comment for this story.
It is hard to describe the marriage during the past
few years, Gerald said, though he knows Cookie rarely saw his wife
during this time. It was just another secret he seemed to hold close.
"That part of his life, he didn't talk about," Gerald
REACHING OUT, BACKING OFF
During the past few years, many people around town
sensed something was troubling Cookie Thornton. Police Chief Jack
Plummer occasionally went to lunch and out for sodas with Thornton. He
hoped to talk him out of his fixation with the city.
Try selling cars, Plummer would suggest. Thornton had
the personality for it.
"Every time I saw Cookie, I'd stop to talk to him,"
Plummer said. "I was constantly trying to look for resolution. My big
concern was that the obsessiveness of what he was doing was going to
ruin his life."
The city tried to make itself less of a distraction
for Thornton. After 2001, he was rarely ticketed. Records show that
since 2002, Thornton was ticketed only four times. It had become
pointless, Hessel said.
Then, the city offered to erase the fines from all
the tickets, so long as Thornton agreed to be less confrontational.
Thornton wouldn't hear of it, demanding his day in
court. The more time passed, the more intense Thornton became. By 2005,
Thornton was picketing Hessel's office.
"Slaves again, slaves again," read the sign draped
around his neck. "Why oh why in Kirkwood are we treated like slaves
Hessel said he tried to approach Thornton during one
of the protests.
"Cookie, what's this all about?" Hessel said.
"It's a cover-up," Thornton told him. "I got it in my
"Let's go and look at it," Hessel said.
The two walked about 10 steps, then Cookie stopped.
"I'm not giving you anything," Thornton said.
Hessel put his hand on one of Thornton's protest
signs tied to a parking meter, telling Thornton he couldn't use public
property to picket.
Thornton pushed Hessel off the curb and gave him a
"He stood there and said 'Touch it again!'" Hessel
After Thornton was arrested twice in 2006 for
disrupting council meetings, Plummer talked with other city officials
about having Thornton mentally evaluated. In the end, they decided not
"If you didn't know Cookie and saw him standing on
the street corner making noises like a donkey, sure, we'd take him in,"
Plummer said. "We didn't think he'd approached that point."
THE FINAL DAYS
Six days before the shootings, on a Friday afternoon,
Sykes opened the door of his Wildwood home to find Cookie Thornton
standing on the front step. A blanket of snow covered the pastor's
driveway. Thornton was there to shovel it.
Sykes was Cookie and Maureen's pastor at Grace
Community Bible Church in Maryland Heights, until Maureen moved to
Florida. Cookie Thornton had sealed and striped the church's parking lot
and took care of other projects for the church, often free of charge.
Sykes wasn't surprised to see him again, ready to offer another good
"He was a very giving person," Sykes said.
Thornton mentioned that he was looking forward to a
jury trial in March, referring to a federal suit seeking $14 million
from the city of Kirkwood. It was his only remaining legal challenge
that hadn't been dismissed.
"At that point, he was still upbeat," Sykes said.
That Sunday, Thornton arrived at the Kirkwood Church
of God in Meacham Park. The church was taking collections for people
needing help with utility payments. He handed a check to one of the
ushers and left. "It was a small amount," pastor Miguel Brinkley said,
"a small token."
On Tuesday, two days before the shootings, Thornton
called Joe Cole, a family friend, and told him that Thornton's federal
suit had been tossed out. A judge ruled that Kirkwood did not violate
his free-speech rights.
"He was talking off the wall," Cole said. "He was
sniffling and crying."
Gone was Thornton's last hope of vindication, his
last chance to get himself and his family's finances out of trouble.
Thornton choked out something about the upcoming City Council meeting.
"I just thought all he was going to do was go up to
City Hall and throw chairs," Cole said. "All he said was, 'They aren't
going to get (away) with this.'"
On the day he would walk into City Hall for the last
time, Thornton was finished crying. He was back to being the man who
punctuated his greetings with "Praise the Lord!" Back to being the man
who was always beyond the reach of a helping hand.
He sat on Runnels' sofa, the two flipping through
photos of the Men's Breakfast Club, a local group that helped kids in
the neighborhood. Thornton reminisced about their days at Kirkwood High
An hour passed. Thornton stood up and said he had to
"He walked out of here with that million-dollar smile,"
Among his last words to his friend were "Glory be to
God," a farewell he had spoken countless times.
Looking back, it seems a chilling line for a man
about to take five lives. But that was Cookie. Everything was always
fine, even when it wasn't.
— Born Dec. 23, 1955
— Graduated from
Kirkwood High School in 1974. Played basketball and was a track star,
winning the triple jump state championship in 1973 and 1974.
— Graduated from
Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) in
Kirksville in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Holds school record for both indoor and outdoor high jump, both set in
1979. Named an All-American track star for both high and triple jumps.
Inducted into Truman's sports hall of fame in 1994.
— Registered Cookco
Construction with the state on Sept. 15, 1987.
— Married Marilyn Ann
Thomas on April 9, 1988. Thomas gave birth to a daughter, Sarah
Elizabeth, in 1991.
— Thomas and Thornton
divorced on Nov. 4, 1993. Thomas and daughter, now 17, live in West Palm
— Ran unsuccessfully
for Kirkwood City Council in April 1994, finishing fifth among six
— Married Maureen Carol
Sutherlin on Aug. 26, 1995. She has a bachelor's degree in education
from Harris-Stowe State University and a master's degree in secondary
administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She is a
former teacher at Nipher Middle School in Kirkwood and assistant
principal at Selvidge Middle School in Ballwin, part of the Rockwood
School District. Since February 2004, she has worked for the Pinellas
County Schools in Florida. She is currently a middle school principal in
— June 30, 1999
Thornton signs a five-year
lease to pay $1,675 a month in rent for a building at 915 South Kirkwood
Road. By December, he is not paying rent and not making property
improvements, including adding a new roof, creating drainage for water
runoff, tuckpointing or painting the exterior, as agreed to in the lease.
A judge allows the landlord to evict Thornton.
— Dec. 17, 1999
Thornton files for
Chapter 13 bankruptcy to reorganize his debts, which were listed at
$488,430.80. Parties making claims include the state Department of
Revenue, Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. and the Internal Revenue
Service, as well as $10,425 from state child support services.
— April 28, 2000
Court dismisses the
bankruptcy case because Thornton fails to make consistent monthly
payments of $4,425 to court.
— May 2001
Thornton is convicted
of 19 city violations in Kirkwood. He is fined $12,250. He eventually
receives more than 200 tickets and more than $20,000 in fines.
— June 23, 2001
Thornton is charged
with assaulting Ken Yost, Kirkwood's public works director.
— May 13, 2002
Thornton is convicted
of the assault charge against Yost. He is also convicted of 26 ordinance
violations, which include parking violations and improper storage of
equipment. He is fined a total of $6,200.
— Sept. 25, 2003
Thornton sues Kirkwood
for malicious prosecution, arguing the city should pay him $12 million.
A judge dismisses the case. He appeals to the state Supreme Court, which
refuses to take the case and sends it to an appeals court.
— Jan. 5, 2004
Thornton files a
federal lawsuit against the Missouri Supreme Court for not taking his
case. It is dismissed.
— April 26, 2005
Missouri appeals court
dismisses Thornton's lawsuit against Kirkwood.
— May 18, 2006
Thornton interrupts a
Kirkwood City Council meeting. He is arrested for disorderly conduct
when he refuses to leave.
— June 15, 2006
At a City Council
meeting, Thornton sets up a poster on an easel with a drawing of a
donkey. He leads off with the words "jackass, jackass, jackass." He is
arrested for disorderly conduct and is later fined $2,000.
— Jan. 1, 2007
IRS files a tax lien of
$195,241 against Thornton's assets; a second IRS lien for $17,539 is
filed March 8, 2007.
— Jan. 16, 2007
Thornton sues Kirkwood
in St. Louis County court, accusing the city of "willfully and
wrongfully" denying his right to speak at a public meeting. He asks that
the city not be notified before a court decision. He calls it "Preliminary
Injunction Without Notice." Two days later, he files a similar suit in
federal court, asking a judge to force Kirkwood to let him speak at
meetings. He requests that more than $14 million in compensatory and
punitive damages be added to the suit.
— June 24, 2007
outside PJ's Restaurant in Kirkwood. He struggles with owner Paul
Cartier. Cartier falls, and Thornton stamps on Cartier's leg until
bystanders subdue him. Thornton is charged with misdemeanor assault. The
criminal case was pending when Thornton was killed.
— Oct. 10, 2007
A St. Louis County
judge dismisses Thornton's free speech lawsuit.
— January 2008
begin on Thornton family house in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is listed in
the names of Thornton's wife, Maureen, and his brother, Arthur. The
house was refinanced twice. The mortgage grew to $352,750 from the
initial price of $124,900.
— Jan. 28, 2008
lawsuit is dismissed.
— Feb. 7, 2008
Thornton arrives at
Kirkwood City Hall. He fatally shoots police Sgt. William Biggs just
outside the building and takes Biggs' gun. Inside, with two guns,
Thornton kills police officer Tom Ballman, Councilwoman Connie Karr,
Councilman Michael H.T. Lynch and Public Works Director Ken Yost. Mayor
Mike Swoboda is critically wounded. Suburban Journals reporter Todd
Smith is shot in the hand. Police shoot and kill Thornton at the scene.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch