A gunman stormed City Hall during a council meeting in Missouri, killing two police officers and three city officials before he was shot by law-enforcement officers. The mayor was severely injured in the shootout too.
The tragedy took place in suburban St. Louis. The gunman entered the council chambers and started firing his gun screaming “Shoot the mayor!”
St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said that the names of the victims would be released during a news conference on Friday morning. The wounded included Mayor Mike Swoboda who was hospitalized to the intensive-care unit of St. John’s Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur, the AP reports.
The attacker killed one officer outside City Hall, walked into the chambers, shot another and continued to fire.
Janet McNichols, a reporter covering the meeting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, told the newspaper that the 7 p.m. meeting with about 30 people had just started when the shooter rushed in and opened fire with at least one weapon. He started yelling about shooting the mayor while walking around and firing, hitting police Officer Tom Ballman in the head, she said.
Public Works Director Kenneth Yost was shot in the head, and council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr also were hit, she said.
The gunman also fired at City Attorney John Hessel, who tried to fight off the attacker by throwing chairs, McNichols told the newspaper. The shooter then moved behind the desk where the council sits and fired more shots at council members, she said.
"Tonight our fellow Missourians in the city of Kirkwood were terrorized by a senseless and horrific crime at an open government meeting," Gov. Matt Blunt said in a statement. "I join Missourians tonight in praying for the victims, their families and friends, and everyone in the community of Kirkwood."
Police have not named the gunman, but McNichols identified him as Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, whom she knows from covering the council. Thornton had previously disrupted meetings, she told the Post-Dispatch, the AP reports.
Thornton was well-known at City Hall, often making outrageous comments at public meetings, according to a 2006 article in the weekly Webster-Kirkwood Times.
The newspaper quoted Swoboda as saying in June 2006 that Thornton's contentious remarks over the years created "one of the most embarrassing situations that I have experienced in my many years of public service."
Swoboda's comments came during a council meeting attended by Thornton two weeks after the man was forcibly removed from the chambers. The mayor said at the time that the council considered banning Thornton from future meetings but decided against it.
"The city council has decided that they will not lower themselves to Mr. Thornton's level," Swoboda said at the meeting. "We will act with integrity and continue to deal with him at these council proceedings. However, we will not allow Mr. Thornton, or any other person, to disrupt these proceedings."
Thornton said during the meeting that he had been issued more than 150 tickets.
He was arrested twice and later convicted for disorderly conduct for outbursts at two council meetings in 2006, convinced the city was persecuting him. When allowed to speak during one meeting, he approached the podium with a posterboard with a picture of a donkey and began making harassing remarks about Swoboda.
In a federal lawsuit stemming from those meetings, Thornton, representing himself, insisted that Kirkwood officials violated his constitutional rights to free speech by barring him from speaking at the meetings. But a judge in St. Louis tossed out the suit Jan. 28, writing that "any restrictions on Thornton's speech were reasonable, viewpoint neutral, and served important governmental interests."
Kirkwood is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of downtown St. Louis. City Hall is in a quiet area filled with condominiums, eateries and shops, not far from a dance studio and train station.