Kirkwood mayor awake, still in critical condition

Monday, February 11, 2008
Residents of Kirkwood, Mo., placed flowers over the weekend along the steps leading to city hall. A gunman identifed as Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton killed five people within minutes before a Kirkwood police officer killed Thornton. The mayor of Kirkwood was shot and is listed in critical condition after undergoing surgery. (JAMES A. FINLEY ~ Associated Press)

Workers inside city hall were busy painting and refurbishing the city council chambers, which may reopen soon

KIRKWOOD, Mo. -- Mayor Mike Swoboda remained in critical condition Sunday, but he opened his eyes and interacted with family and friends for the first time since he was shot in a rampage at Kirkwood city hall that left six people dead and the mayor clinging to life.

"It's the type of improvement you would only expect from prayer and expert medical practice," said Tom Noonan, a family friend of Swoboda's who was with him Sunday and spoke to reporters at a news conference.

Swoboda was shot twice in the head by Charles "Cookie" Thornton on Thursday night after Thornton stormed a city council meeting, killing two police officers and three city officials before being killed by police.

In Kirkwood on Sunday, residents left heaps of flowers at city hall, while the lobby of the city police department took on the air of a funeral home as mourners came to support two officers killed in the shooting spree. Workers inside city hall were busy painting and refurbishing the city council chambers, which officials hope will reopen to the public soon.

Responding to voices

On Sunday morning, doctors reduced Swoboda's sedatives and he began to open his eyes, Noonan said. He responded to his family's voices and squeezed Noonan's hand.

"He actually tried to get out of bed, which might be humorous to people who know the mayor," Noonan said. But in spite of the improvement, he said Swoboda's recovery is still "touch and go."

Noonan pointed to his temple to indicate where one bullet hit Swoboda, saying it exited the other side of his face. The second shot went into the back of the head and also exited, he said.

"He's definitely responding -- he's not brain-dead," Noonan said.

Thornton had a contentious relationship with city officials that dated back years. As the owner of a small contracting company, he was cited multiple times for violating municipal codes. He claimed he was being persecuted by city officials and was arrested twice in city hall for disorderly conduct when he criticized officials during council meetings and called the mayor a "jackass."

Thornton's widow Maureen Thornton laid her own flowers at city hall on Saturday, attached to a message she wrote for her husband: "To the love of my life, From the love of your life."

At a news conference Friday, Maureen Thornton read a brief statement expressing sorrow at the tragedy, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"I think it's important that I apologize to the families that have experienced this unfortunate situation," she said. "I need the people to know that I do not condone violence. ... While I do not make excuses for Cookie, he is my husband and he is a valued loving member of our family and he will be missed."

Funeral arrangements

Thornton's shooting spree lasted just a few minutes. Police say he first shot and killed police Sgt. William Biggs outside city hall. Once inside, Thornton shot and killed police officer Tom Ballman, Councilwoman Connie Karr, Councilman Michael H.T. Lynch and Public Works director Ken Yost. Kirkwood police then shot and killed Thornton.

Suburban Journals reporter Todd Smith was shot in the hand and has been treated and released from St. John's Mercy Medical Center, where Swoboda is being treated.

The Rev. David Bennett said he had offered the Kirkwood United Methodist Church to Thornton's family to use for the shooter's funeral service.

"We want to practice forgiveness and open every avenue possible to unite the differences in our community," Bennett said.

In city hall, a crew laid a fresh coat of paint Sunday over the recently dry walled city council chambers that were riddled with bullet holes.

Kirkwood contractor Michael VonGerichten said workers hope to have the new chambers open for a meeting Thursday.

Funeral arrangements for the victims have been made for this week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A funeral service for officer Ballman will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Ballwin. A memorial service for Sgt. William Biggs will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves.

Services for Councilwoman Karr will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church in Kirkwood. Funeral services for Councilman Lynch will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Peter Catholic Church in Kirkwood. A memorial for Public Works director Yost will be at 2 p.m. today at the First Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood.

Arrangements for Thornton were pending.

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