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Feb 8, 9:01 PM EST

Before rampage, Missouri shooter had long history of disputes with City Hall


KIRKWOOD, Mo. (AP) -- The Kirkwood City Council once considered banning Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton from its meetings, but decided that he, like any other constituent, had a right to be there.

At Thursday night's meeting the man shot five people to death, in a rage that stemmed in part from a bunch of tickets against his asphalt business.

Thornton marched into council chambers with a gun and yelled "Shoot the mayor!" before squeezing off shot after shot.

Before he was shot to death by police, Thornton, 52, killed two policemen, Tom Ballman and William Biggs; council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr; and Director of Public Works Kenneth Yost.

Mayor Mike Swoboda was critically wounded, and a newspaper reporter covering the meeting, Todd Smith of Suburban Journals, was hospitalized in satisfactory condition.

On Thornton's bed back home, his younger brother Arthur said he found a note that read: "The truth will come out in the end."

Residents in the suburb 20 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis gathered at a midday prayer vigil at the local United Methodist Church, where a bell tolled six times - once for each of the dead - as mourners held white candles honoring them.

"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."

As roughly 150 citations piled up over the years, Thornton raged at council meetings that he was being persecuted. He accused the council of racism and having a "plantation mentality."

He was cuffed and dragged from council chambers in 2006 after calling its members corrupt "jackasses." He claimed in a federal lawsuit that his free-speech rights were violated when he was arrested for disorderly conduct at two meetings, but a judge last week threw out the suit, saying the city acted reasonably.

Franklin McCallie, a longtime friend of Thornton's, said Thornton once told him that the city would drop the fines if he "would just follow the law."

"In our long talks, I begged him to do this," McCallie said in an e-mail to the AP on Friday. "But Cookie said it was a matter of principle with him and that he wanted to sue the city for millions of dollars."

McCallie said the rampage was "a brutal and inexcusable act, the act of a person who was not in his right mind when he did it."

Another brother, Gerald Thornton, said the court ruling dismissing his brother's lawsuit may have finally sent him over the edge.

"They denied all rights to the access of protection and he took it upon himself to go to war and end the issue," Gerald Thornton said Friday as he stood in front of City Hall, where piles of flowers and balloons were collecting in tribute to the victims.

Charles Thornton's dispute with City Hall had been escalating since the late 1990s, when he "was promised" a large amount of construction work on a development near his home, said Arthur Thornton, 42. The vast majority of work went to other contractors, he said.

"They just gave him what I'd call the scraps," Arthur Thornton said.

A few years ago, the businessman developed an especially tense relationship with Yost, his brother said. Yost would often complain that Thornton was parking his commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods. Some were parked in Thornton's driveway, some in a lot across the street. Soon police began ticketing the vehicles, and Yost would drive by work sites to remind Thornton he could only store commercial equipment in designated areas, he said.

Yost "would ride by and say: 'You need to move this and you need to move that,' and we did it," Arthur Thornton recalled.

Charles Thorton called the fines against him a "slave tax," according to accounts of the meetings in the town's paper, The Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Friends and family said he had grown increasingly frustrated in his fight. But many also said they didn't understand how he could have been capable of such violence, describing him as full of love, churchgoing, and nonviolent.

"He was a pivotal part of the community," said 30-year-old Charles Runnels, who found work with Thornton when he easily could have turned to the streets. "We installed air conditioning units, did landscaping. We just were line-dancing the other night."

Charles Thornton was one of nine children raised in the family home in Meacham Park, a historically black neighborhood in Kirkwood. The surrounding suburb is predominantly white. Popular in high school, he was a track standout at then Northeast Missouri State University in the late 70s. His school records for indoor and outdoor high jump set in 1979 still stand.

In the hours before the shooting spree, Thornton was helping to organize a fish fry fundraiser to help defray the cost of a friend's funeral, his mother, 83-year-old Annie Thornton said. Before he walked out the door, he hugged his mother, and stopped to speak.

"'To God be the glory. I love you all. I'll see you later,'" she recalled him saying.

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