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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: About 300 people gathered on the front lawn of Kirkwood City Hall on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon to dedicate a new memorial walkway to the six city officials who died as a result of the Feb. 7, 2008, attack on the city council.

Mayor Art McDonnell said no memorial could "replace what we lost," but that the walkway would remind people "every day to work as they did ... for a better community."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The relationship between Kirkwood and its predominantly African-American neighborhood of Meacham Park plays out daily in the public schools, where decades of attention to race-related issues have yielded both success and frustration.

At Kirkwood High School, African-American students have made major improvements in their graduation rate and other measures of achievement. But the number of African-American teachers has shrunk to two on a faculty of 118. Some current and former African-American faculty complain about being treated disrespectfully.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The main focus of Kirkwood's new racial mediation agreement is improving the difficult, sometimes deadly relationship between the mostly African-American Meacham Park neighborhood and the mostly white Kirkwood Police Department. But Meacham Park leaders doubt the proposed steps will resolve their complaints that police bully neighborhood residents. And police officers remain wary in the aftermath of three officers' killings by Meacham Park residents.

Participants including Harriet Patton, president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, and Bob Sears join hands during a memorial service Saturday evening at Douglas Memorial Church of God in Christ in Meacham Park.
Anthony Soufflé | For the Beacon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: During the months after the Feb. 7, 2008, Kirkwood City Hall killings, several hundred residents gathered every couple of months to discuss how to achieve greater community understanding and healing.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I didn't grow up in Kirkwood. So that's the first strike against me. And I'm not white, so that's the second strike.

But even with two strikes against me, today, Kirkwood is my home. And for the most part, I love it.

I grew up in working-class neighborhoods in north St. Louis. My father was a Special Delivery driver for the Post Office, and my mother worked in clerical and secretarial jobs.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I entered Frank P. Tillman elementary school in Kirkwood in 1954, the first year that the Kirkwood public schools desegregated. That didn't mean there were any black students. There weren't.

Kirkwood was desegregating not because it chose to, but because it was the law of the land. Before Brown vs. Board of Education was announced that spring, Kirkwood had been fighting a group of black parents who had gone to federal court to force desegregation. After Brown, a federal court ordered Kirkwood desegregated.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Two men walked on the moon before Meacham Park had paved roads and modern sewers. Public services were so poor in 1966 that five children died in a Meacham Park house fire after the community's volunteer fire department's engine wouldn't start.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Perception often collides with facts when it comes to race. That is especially true in the intertwined story of Kirkwood's redevelopment of its Meacham Park neighborhood and Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton's deadly assault at City Hall on Feb. 7, 2008.

Thornton, a resident of Meacham Park, was once a leading supporter of the redevelopment in the predominantly African-American neighborhood, but he became disaffected. He killed five city officials and shot Mayor Mike Swoboda, who died later that year. Thornton was killed by police.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Sometimes, in his dreams, Kirkwood City Attorney John Hessel is back in City Hall. He is reading exhibits into the record when the commotion starts.

He runs, only this time maybe he runs toward a different door. Maybe he can't get to it in time. Maybe the man holding two guns cuts him off. In every dream, he does something just a little different.

In every dream, he dies.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Kirkwood City Council voted Thursday night to adopt a mediation agreement committing it to improve its human rights commission and to expand police involvement with young people in the Meacham Park neighborhood. But even before the council voted, some leaders in Meacham Park accused the mediation process of failing to face up to Kirkwood's racial problem.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Officials from the city of Kirkwood and the U.S. Department of Justice will sign a formal agreement Thursday, completing a two-year racial mediation process that followed the killings on Feb. 7, 2008, in the Kirkwood City Hall. Five city officials and the gunman were killed. A sixth official, Mayor Mike Swoboda, was critically injured in the shootings and died later that year.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Association has resigned from the Justice Department Mediation Team that was appointed in the wake of the Feb. 7, 2008, Kirkwood City Hall murders that left five city officials dead. The team is preparing to deliver its report next month.

Harriet Patton, a long-time activist in Meacham Park, said she resigned last month because city officials on the team kept saying, in her words, "Kirkwood does not have a racial problem. There is nothing broken, nothing needs to be fixed." Meacham Park is a mostly African-American neighborhood in Kirkwood.

race frankly logo
St. Louis Beacon | 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When the Beacon sent out a query through our Public Insight Network asking about people's experiences with race, we got more than 100 responses from old and young, black, white, Hispanic, American Indian and foreign-born.

Here, we share some of those stories, from a black woman who saw a Middle Eastern man refused service, to an Iranian family business who found community support when they least expected it.

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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