Mo. gunman had history of run-ins with city council


The Kansas City Star
Related: Gunman kills 2 officers, 3 others at Mo. city council meeting

KIRKWOOD, Mo. — Save for the milling journalists and humming satellite trucks, the scene outside Kirkwood City Hall is quiet this morning.

City Hall — where last night a disgruntled resident killed five people and injured two more before being killed by police — is cordoned off by yellow police tape, as is the adjacent block.

The media and a few onlookers are gathered across the street, in a large pavilion in front of a row of shops. Among those gathered was Gwyn Wahlman, who was watching from a distance as her boyfriend, an amateur reporter who covered Kirkwood city government for a local newsletter, was interviewed by the TV stations.

Wahlman, of Kirkwood, said she’s been a regular at City Council meetings for about 10 years, although she wasn’t present last night.

She’d come to know the killer, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, from his frequent and disruptive outbursts at the council meetings.

“It was almost as if he was putting on a performance — like a circus performance,” Wahlman said.

Thornton would routinely bring signs to the meetings. One showed three monkeys and read “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” Thornton said the monkeys represented Mayor Mike Swoboda, Public Works Director Kenneth Yost and City Attorney John Hessell, Wahlman said.

Last night, Yost was killed and Swoboda was shot in the head. He’s in critical condition this morning.

At other times, Wahlman saw Thornton call city officials “jackasses” and bray like a donkey.

In response to the disruptions, city officials took steps to rein Thornton in. They put up a velvet rope in front of the dais to keep him back from the council and installed a countdown clock — “like something from NASA” — to let Thornton when his time to address the council was up.

“The steps they took to discourage him just made him more angry,” Wahlman said.

Wahlman also said she believed the city stepped up its police presence at meetings due to concerns about Thornton. Two police officers, including one outside City Hall, were among those killed last night.

Council watchers were never able to pinpoint the exact nature of Thornton’s anger with the city, she said. She had heard that he racked up several thousand dollars in parking tickets and that he’d filed a suit against the city, but wasn’t sure how that correlated to his outbursts.

“It made me really uncomfortable when Cookie would get up,” Wahlman said. “Nobody could fathom just what the truth was behind his anger.”

Wahlman said she knew one of the victims, Councilwoman Connie Karr, well.

“She was a woman with boundless energy,” Wahlman said. “She was very intelligent — really sharp and with a wonderful smile.”

Karr was running to succeed Swoboda as mayor, she said.

People familiar with Thornton’s antics in the council worried what he might eventually do, Wahlman said.

“We used to kid around that someday he’d come into City Council with guns a-blazing, but we never really thought it would happen,” she said.
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