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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The people of Kirkwood came together Saturday night. On a springlike evening, a large crowd came to pay tribute to five men and one woman who died last year.

Kirkwood police officers William Biggs and Tom Ballman; Council members Connie Karr and Mike Lynch; and the city’s public works director Ken Yost died on Feb. 7, 2008, after they were shot by Charles “Cookie” Thornton. Thornton was well known inside City Hall and throughout Kirkwood as a businessman who tried to help others and as an annoyance who frequently disrupted the city’s business. He was killed by police who responded to a distress call from Biggs just after he had been shot.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: We know the time, the place, the people killed and the person who did the killing on Feb. 7, 2008. Those moments remain in the minds of those present that night and those present for the retelling after. But what about the moments that followed? What’s happened in Kirkwood and around St. Louis since Charles “Cookie” Thornton opened fire at a Kirkwood City Hall meeting, killed five and wounded the mayor, who died months later? Organizations have formed, essays have been written by school kids imagining a prejudice-free community, and remembrance ceremonies are planned.

A year after the City Hall murders of Feb. 7, 2008, important changes have come to Kirkwood, while other things have remained unchanged.

The new mayor, Art McDonnell, walks down from the dais and into the audience before council meetings to greet citizens and tell them how they can express their views. The city has called two town meetings to open the lines of communication further. More people have volunteered for city commissions than any time in recent history. And a group of several hundred citizens has been meeting regularly for the past year to talk about white privilege and race in a way it never had been talked about before in this idyllic railroad town turned comfortable suburb.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When crews closed part of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) in January, MoDOT and much of St. Louis held their collective breath waiting to see whether the predicted gridlock would indeed occur.

Thanks to good planning and the public's willingness to take MoDOT's advice to stay home, take Metro, travel early or late and find alternative routes, life — or at least vehicular traffic — went on.

A film on white privilege had just concluded and the 140 people at Saturday's meeting of the Community for Understanding and Healing were about to break into discussion groups when they received the shocking news. Former Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda had died earlier in the morning. Swoboda had been gravely wounded in the Feb. 7 City Hall shootings at which five city officials had been killed by Charles L. "Cookie" Thornton. The killings had led to the formation of the community group.

Rocky Sickmann
Provided by Anheuser-Busch

For Rocky Sickmann of St. Louis, the U.S. war on terrorism began nearly 30 years ago -- on the morning he was taken hostage by Iranian militants and survived, along with 51 other American captives, 444 days of torment.

"If you talk to a lot of the hostages, you know the war on terrorism started on Nov. 4, 1979, when we did not retaliate on Iran. And it seems like Iran has humiliated us and taken us for granted ever since,'' Sickmann says.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Stock story lines about loners and psychopaths fail to explain Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton’s murderous assault this winter at the Kirkwood City Hall — an attack that killed two police officers and three city officials and gravely wounded the mayor, my friend.

Nor do stock story lines about race explain how evil found a home in our idyllic little railroad town turned suburb, where some people feel comfortable leaving their doors unlocked.

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