KIRKWOOD, Mo. – Town gadfly Lee “Cookie” Thornton was well-known in this cozy suburb outside of St. Louis and his vendetta against City Hall was legendary.
Thornton, 52, was irate over zoning decisions that went against him, was furious at dozens of parking tickets that led to a total of some $2,000 in fines, and was livid over City Council attempts to curb his ranting at city meetings.
In fact, Thornton was twice removed and charged with disorderly conduct stemming from his outbursts at city meetings in 2006. Late last month, a St. Louis judge threw out Thornton’s lawsuit claiming the city infringed on his freedom of speech.
That decision, family members said Friday, sent Thornton over the edge. The result was Thursday night’s shooting rampage in and around City Hall that left five people dead – including city officials he had hounded for years – before police shot and killed Thornton.
“This was like a family affair, not some killing by a stranger,” said Missouri state Sen. Michael Gibbons, who hails from Kirkwood.
Gibbons not only knew Thornton – he attended his wedding years ago – he was also close to most of the seven city officials and policemen who died or were wounded in the attack.
“Everybody involved knew everybody else on a first-name basis,” Gibbons said. “That’s why it hits so hard. It was a guy we knew who just snapped and killed people we knew really well.”
One of Thornton’s brothers said Cookie Thornton left a note on his bed before the shootings. “The Truth will come out in the end,” he wrote.
“He had grievances against the city that he felt weren’t being resolved,” his brother Gerald Thornton said in an interview. “So he felt he had to take the war into his own hands.”
On Friday afternoon, as a community grieved, services were planned for Thornton and the people he killed: Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, Officer Tom Ballman, Officer William Biggs and council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr.
Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda, 69, was in critical condition in a nearby hospital intensive care unit. Suburban Journals reporter Todd Smith was hospitalized in satisfactory condition.
“This is such an incredible shock to all of us. It’s a tragedy of untold magnitude,” Tim Griffin, Kirkwood’s deputy mayor, said at a news conference. “The business of the city will continue and we will recover, but we will never be the same.”