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Kirkwood City Hall shooting and aftermath
July 20, 2019
According to St. Louis Magazine, a Meacham Park resident named Cookie Thornton strongly supported both the annexation and the construction of Kirkwood Commons, believing Kirkwood would offer his asphalt and demolition business construction contracts on the project. When the developers did not hire his business and he received numerous tickets for parking his construction equipment in a residential neighborhood under Kirkwood’s new ordinances, Thornton believed Kirkwood was participating in a racist conspiracy against him and Meacham Park. He filed a federal lawsuit against the city, protested outside Kirkwood City Hall and disrupted City Council meetings without success.
“I think most people realized that the city really wasn’t treating Cookie badly,” Griffin said. “Cookie was one of us, and I knew him since I was a kid. He had some beefs that probably weren’t legitimate, but [they were] legitimate from other people’s perspectives.”
On Feb. 7, 2008, Cookie Thornton once again walked into a City Council meeting. He held two handguns and a sign saying “The unrest in Meacham Park will continue until the racist plantation mentality of the Kirkwood officials are addressed.” Then, he opened fire on the council members, killing six people. The rampage elevated Kirkwood’s divisions.
“I think it brought the conversation to, ‘Even if there’s not realities, what [are the] perceptions of all of this; what is it that a resident of Meacham Park may think about the city?’” Griffin said. “‘Is it a bad perspective, and should we be doing something differently to make sure everyone feels more included?’”
Griffin said he and the rest of the City Council invited in the Human Relations division from the Department of Justice to lead discussions among residents of Meacham Park, Kirkwood city government and the rest of Kirkwood. This morphed into the Human Rights Commission, which is an ongoing forum for conversation about race relations in Kirkwood. The Kirkwood Police Department began periodically grilling hot dogs with residents of Meacham Park. The attempts to bring the community together also went beyond government, as churches and civic groups worked to cross the divide through seminars. Kirkwood United Methodist Church, a predominately white church near Downtown Kirkwood, held the funeral for Cookie Thornton to bridge the gap and now hosts an annual prayer vigil the Sunday after the shooting as part of its Kirkwood Social Justice Coalition initiative. According to Jess Horsley, director of youth and family ministries, creating these spaces for the community to come together is essential to addressing the divide in Kirkwood.
“I think whenever there is a tragedy like the shooting, it makes people focus on not only the tragedy itself but then the causes,” Horsley said. “ That’s just natural human reaction. There are a lot of people who are willing to engage with each other and have these conversations and be a part of the solution.”
Patton and MNIA worked closely with Kirkwood city officials to give Meacham Park a more prominent role in the community and Griffin said Patton plans activities the City of Kirkwood participates in. One of their primary goals was to create a positive dialogue between residents of Meacham Park and the rest of Kirkwood.
“Ever since 2008, it’s been more coming together, working together and staying together,” Patton said. “You see organizationally, our structure has been built around positivity.”
Patton said this positivity showed at the 2019 fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at KHS, a collaboration between MNIA, KSD and Kirkwood city government. As Miller, Horsley and a diverse crowd looked on, Patton, Griffin and other city leaders linked hands on stage. Patton emphasized one phrase.
“More coming together.”