Followup: The Kirkwood shootings, 1 year later

This is a discussion on Followup: The Kirkwood shootings, 1 year later within the In the News: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly forums, part of the The Back Porch category; Here's the original story from last February: http://www.defensivecarry.com/vbulle...l-meeting.html Here's the followup story that ran in last Sunday's St. Louis newspaper (It's long, but the descriptions ...

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Thread: Followup: The Kirkwood shootings, 1 year later

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    VIP Member Array grady's Avatar
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    Followup: The Kirkwood shootings, 1 year later

    Here's the original story from last February: http://www.defensivecarry.com/vbulle...l-meeting.html

    Here's the followup story that ran in last Sunday's St. Louis newspaper (It's long, but the descriptions by the survivors of the actual shooting are full of details that are of interest to many of us here--unfortunately, many of the details show how people who are unarmed are usually totally unprepared and vulnerable to an armed attack):

    02/01/2009 - 1 year later: Recollections, and pain, from those who survived Kirkwood shootings - STLtoday.com

    1 year later: Recollections, and pain, from those who survived Kirkwood shootings
    By Stephen Deere, Elizabethe Holland and Doug Moore
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    02/01/2009

    The silver-gray handgun looked like a prop to Cindy Burquin, just part of another stunt by her former high school classmate. She watched him raise the .44-caliber revolver, expecting a flag with the word “Bang!” to unfurl.

    Even after the first shot, she tried to rationalize the moment.

    Those have to be blanks. He's just trying to scare the City Council.

    But the bloodied police officer was lifeless in the chair, and people in the council chambers were diving out of the way, screaming. Burquin found herself on the floor, wondering if she should stand up.

    Maybe I should talk to him. Maybe he'll listen. Maybe he'll stop shooting.
    People ducked under desks and chairs, ran from the room, curled into fetal positions. Many could hear the gunman's breathing between the shots.

    They had come to Kirkwood City Hall focused on a proposed medical building, zoning ordinances, contracts for wireless service and other minutiae of municipal government.

    Suddenly, they were moments away from losing everything.

    Ken Yost, the public works director, was the second person in the room to be shot. Then two council members and Mayor Mike Swoboda.

    Burquin couldn't comprehend what was happening. She looked across the floor and saw her missing shoe. She thought about the expensive orthotics inside it.

    I have to get that shoe.

    But then the gunman's black jeans appeared at her feet. She pressed her face against the carpet and covered her head with her hands.

    If I don't look, he won't see me. If I cover my eyes, he can't see me.

    Another volley of gunfire followed. A police officer began asking who was injured and motioning people out of the room.

    The gunman, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, lay motionless near the dais.

    Forty-two other people attended the meeting or were about to enter the chambers on Feb. 7, 2008. Thirty-eight would survive that night.

    For many, normal had been shattered. Their worlds split in two — life before the attack and life after.

    And with survival came endless questions.

    What if ...?

    "I had tremendous guilt about not getting up and saying, 'Cookie don't do this,'" Burquin said.

    What should I have ...?

    "Some people after it happened said, 'Well, if I was there, I would have done this, or I would have done that,'" Deputy Mayor Tim Griffin said. "What I say is, 'You have no idea. You have no idea.'"

    One year later, some survivors say they are moving forward; the memories linger, but don't overwhelm. For others, life has become a search for a new normal.

    "I don't know if you can ever really heal," said Claire Budd, the city's former public information officer. "It's just getting used to a new world. It's like saying, 'You can't go home.'"

    HAUNTED

    City Attorney John Hessel was at his daughter's wedding reception, preparing to give the toast.

    Just before he began to speak, he saw someone enter the room.

    Charles Thornton was walking among the guests, wearing the same black jeans and leather jacket he did the night of the attack. Hessel watched in horror as Thornton pulled out a gun and started shooting.

    The dream about his daughter's wedding last summer was just one way his mind struggled with what he had seen. For months after the shooting, Hessel had explosions of energy, his three-mile afternoon runs turning into six miles.

    "I'd run for miles without even trying," he said. "I'd run twice as far and it felt like it was nothing."

    Alan Hopefl was a fixture at city meetings, chronicling city issues for a mass e-mail sent to residents and others. Of all the people in the room that night, Hopefl thought he would be immune to the effects of trauma. He had taught medical therapeutics to staff in an intensive-care unit at St. Louis University Hospital. He had seen people die.

    But three months after Thornton's rampage, Hopefl found that when he tried to leave Kirkwood's city limits, he was gripped by anxiety. His appetite would vanish; he was beset by waves of sadness.

    "I was used to people dying, but those were people that I didn't really know that well, and there wasn't any violence involved," he said.

    Todd Smith, a reporter for the Suburban Journals, was covering the meeting when Thornton attacked. A bullet that passed through Yost struck Smith in the hand, requiring two surgeries. He still catches himself rubbing the plastic joint doctors put in his thumb.

    And he can't shake the memory of Thornton's face.

    "I just saw complete hate."

    'AN ETERNITY'

    Time changed that night, slowed until seconds separated those who would live from those who would die.

    John Mullen was at the meeting to oppose a medical building planned in his neighborhood. He saw Officer Tom Ballman reach for his gun as Thornton was about to shoot. Mullen remembered the moment in slow motion.

    "All he needed was one second more," Mullen said.

    Just. One. More. Second.

    "If you don't think five seconds is an eternity ... put your hand in boiling water," Mullen said.

    Hessel crouched under the desk on the dais with council members Art McDonnell and Ignatius "Iggy" Yuan. Hessel listened as Thornton, getting closer by the moment, methodically gunned down his colleagues.

    "I was aware of every second," Hessel said.

    Then something urged him to get up.

    You've got to move right now.

    Hessel jumped over Yost's body, began picking up heavy plastic chairs and throwing them at Thornton, shouting, "Don't! Don't! Don't!"

    Thornton pursued Hessel, who was able to get out of the room. Police officers arrived at the chambers and killed Thornton. Yuan knows what would have happened had Hessel stayed put.

    "I was the next guy to go," he said.

    And then there was Sgt. William Biggs, who, in his final moments, saved lives. Biggs was in a parking lot near City Hall when Thornton shot him and stole his gun. At some point, Biggs pressed an alarm button on his radio, alerting officers.

    "Every second in that room was just amazing and life-saving to a certain extent," Yuan said. "Every second."

    If there were seconds when time was a thief, there were moments when time seemed to give.

    Murray Pounds, Kirkwood's director of parks and recreation, turned 51 that day. He was running late for the council meeting because he stopped at home to get a tie. As he reached the doorway to the council chambers, the shooting began. Pounds turned and ran.

    "I was fortunate that I was late," he said. "I didn't have to see some of the things that people in that room had to see. Past that, I don't try to go too far. You could spend a lot of time doing that, and it's just easier to move on."

    SECOND GUESSING

    After the shootings, the survivors remembered all sorts of things that contradicted others. Some recalled Thornton shouting out the names of people he was targeting: "Yost .... Mayor! ... Hessel!" Others recalled him saying, "Shoot the mayor!" ... "Come on mayor!"

    Investigators released an audiotape in August that had recorded the attack. Some of the survivors were drawn to the recording. An overriding question remained.

    What really happened?

    "I listened to the tape because ... I didn't want to be influenced by people who weren't there," said Betty Montano, the city clerk.

    Said Hessel: "I wanted to be sure my brain wasn't fabricating anything."

    Budd had heard so many different versions of the shootings that she wasn't sure she could trust her own recollection.

    "I wanted to see if what I remembered was how it played out," she said.

    Most disturbing to her were the moments captured before the mayhem began — when everyone was saying the Pledge of Allegiance. She could hear council members Connie Karr and Michael Lynch say, "Here," during the roll call.

    It would be among their last words.

    Thornton then burst into the chambers. "Everybody stop what you are doing!" he yelled, followed by a few inaudible words. After that, "Hands in the air! Hands in the air!"

    Thornton can't be heard saying anything else on the tape, leaving some survivors to second-guess their own memories.

    McDonnell, who is now the city's mayor, was among those who chose not to listen to the recording. But he kept a copy of the police report. "I put it in a box upstairs if my kids ever want to read it," he said. "But I haven't read the report."

    He had seen enough already.

    THE NEW NORMAL

    Claire Budd can't visit her father's ashes.

    They are buried in a memorial garden at Kirkwood's First Presbyterian Church. There, his name — D. Jack Patton — is engraved on a pinkish-gray granite marker.

    On the same stone is the name of Budd's former co-worker and friend, Ken Yost. A friend she watched die. Seeing his name brings back memories she can't put aside.

    "Ken was a wonderful man, and I considered him a good friend," Budd said. "But when I see that name, at least for now, those aren't the first memories that come to mind — it's what happened that night to him."

    Budd quit her job at City Hall. If she was going to find a new sense of normal, she needed to do it somewhere else. She feels as if she's come a long way since that night, but not far enough to attend a remembrance ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 7. She has a hard time even driving down Kirkwood Road, past the building where she watched friends die.

    Many survivors sought counseling from professionals, clergy and from the only people who could possibly know what it was like to live through such horror — the other survivors. Mullen and his neighbors formed their own self-help group that still meets on occasion to keep tabs on one another.

    A few found the strength to return to the very place that produced such painful memories.

    Montano, the city clerk, went back to work at City Hall almost immediately. But she found herself overwhelmed by the memories. She turned to counseling.

    "I don't think that I'd be where I am today without that," she said.

    Mullen also returned to the council chambers to finish the work he had started. The proposal for the medical building he and his neighbors were fighting eventually was resolved. They prevailed.

    Hopefl resumed his note-taking at city meetings. "I thought some of the people who were killed would have wanted me to do that," he said.

    McDonnell said the tragedy had made him appreciate so much more in life. Any time he gets a phone call from one of his sons, he takes it.

    "Before, I might have said, 'Peter, can I call you right back?'" McDonnell said.

    "Now I think, 'Well, this is the moment I have.'"

    At times, Hessel has no words for his emotions — a strange mix of gratitude and bereavement. What do you call that?

    "It's not guilt," said Hessel. "I don't know how to find the term for the feeling you have."

    For some of the people who returned to council chambers, there are uneasy moments. When the doors at the back of the chambers open, they turn and look. Their minds wander.

    MOVING FORWARD

    On the afternoon before the shootings, Hessel was sitting in his office, apologizing to his father who had died 10 years ago that day.

    I know I should get out to your grave site today and see you. But I don't have time. I have to go to this stupid council meeting.

    That urge Hessel felt while he was under the desk during the attack? He thinks it was his father telling him to get up and run.

    "I was absolutely certain that my father was my guardian angel," he said.

    He knows people credit him with saving lives by distracting Thornton, but he doesn't feel like much of a hero. "I was just trying to stay alive," he said.

    He has replayed the night hundreds of times, envisioned ways he could have acted differently. But each time he changes something, each time he veers from reality, the result is always the same.

    "I get killed," he said.

    For days after the attack, Burquin questioned whether she should have stood up and spoken to Thornton. Graduates of Kirkwood High's class of 1974, they had known each other for years.

    Whenever she catches herself wondering what if, she remembers what a counselor said just after the shootings. During a community program on trauma, one man asked why no one had tried to stop Thornton. It was not the right question, the counselor said, because it implied that everybody in the room did something wrong.

    Only one person, the counselor insisted, was in the wrong.

    "I was so glad she said that," Burquin said.

    And with that moment, the survivor took a step forward.

    sdeere@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8116
    dmoore@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8125
    eholland@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8259

    A few things really stood out to me:
    People ducked under desks and chairs, ran from the room, curled into fetal positions.
    If the Brady Bunch gets their way, these will be the preferred methods of self defense for anyone attacked by a gunman. Oh, and don't forget to pass several more gun laws after each attack. Yeh, that'll help.

    Many could hear the gunman's breathing between the shots.
    There would have been time to return fire if anyone else had been armed, especially if more than one of the council members were armed. The shooter expected the policeman to be armed. I doubt he expected others to be armed.

    If I don't look, he won't see me. If I cover my eyes, he can't see me.
    Any comment I make about this will sound disrespectful, so I'll just let it stand on its own merits (or lack of them).

    John Mullen was at the meeting to oppose a medical building planned in his neighborhood. He saw Officer Tom Ballman reach for his gun as Thornton was about to shoot. Mullen remembered the moment in slow motion.

    "All he needed was one second more," Mullen said.

    Just. One. More. Second.
    I will try to learn something from this. Now when circumstances permit, I carry my guns as accessible as I can, rather than deep cover. I also make certain I have a weapon immediately available (don't have to dig for it) when I'm pulling into or out of my garage.

    Like the policeman, I probably won't have advance warning when I'm going to need Just. One. More. Second.

    Sad situation, greatly compounded by the laws preventing council members from being armed.

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    Distinguished Member Array lacrosse50's Avatar
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    Very informative read, thanks for posting it. Many lessons learned.
    The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
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    Distinguished Member Array Fitch's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting that.

    That is an amazingly good read. Lots to digest in that.

    -----------

    I know of one city council a few miles from here that has one member (a remarkably good shot with combat experience - a friend of mine) who always has a kar .40 readily accessible on his person in the meetings.

    Fitch

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    This is what it's come to.

    Not one wished they had been armed. Some thought "should I talk to him?" Most just hoped not to die.
    We've successfully trained the fight out of our people.
    Not one said "I'm getting a gun and will never be at another's mercy again."
    Just ... move on. Mop up the blood. Sorry for your loss. Moving on.
    Nothing to see here. Keep it moving folks. Nothing you could possibly have done.
    We've been counseled to death. Literally.

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    Member Array socal2310's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grady View Post
    Just. One. More. Second

    I will try to learn something from this. Now when circumstances permit, I carry my guns as accessible as I can, rather than deep cover. I also make certain I have a weapon immediately available (don't have to dig for it) when I'm pulling into or out of my garage.

    Like the policeman, I probably won't have advance warning when I'm going to need Just. One. More. Second.

    Sad situation, greatly compounded by the laws preventing council members from being armed.
    Something else to keep in mind, although there's no guarantee it would have helped: get off the x.

    Ryan
    Those who will not govern their own behavior are slaves waiting for a master; one will surely find them.

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    VIP Member Array TN_Mike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rse2 View Post
    Not one wished they had been armed. Some thought "should I talk to him?" Most just hoped not to die.
    We've successfully trained the fight out of our people.
    Not one said "I'm getting a gun and will never be at another's mercy again."
    Just ... move on. Mop up the blood. Sorry for your loss. Moving on.
    Nothing to see here. Keep it moving folks. Nothing you could possibly have done.
    We've been counseled to death. Literally.
    That is exactly what I was thinking. I know my thoughts would have been along the lines of "If I only had my gun I could end this right now!" But, for the most part, our society has become bleating sheep, just waiting to be killed never thinking about how they can protect themselves. Always trusting strangers to protect them. It amazes me.

    Thanks for the post Grady, that was a very good read with a ton of info.
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    VIP Member Array grady's Avatar
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    Here's a sad (to me) commentary by one of the survivors of the shooting. In a nutshell, he has now focused on how he believes microstamping can help deter shootings.

    If it wasn't for the gains we've made in the last few years, I would wonder if there was any common sense left in people. This guy survives 2 shootings, and all he can think about is microstamping. I just don't get that logic. The Kirkwood murderer used 2 guns, both obtained illegally. The bullets in 1 gun were also stolen--not sure about the bullets in the other.

    I see no hope for some people. That's fine, as long as they don't hinder my ability to protect my family. That is where the fight is: they don't carry, and they want to prevent me from carrying. That's where I draw the line.

    In summary, I think some people are stupid and will remain so.

    Anyway, here's the link and story. It's kinda depressing to me how someone can go through what he did, but yet now his focus is on microstamping.

    Suburban Journals | Opinion | For Kirkwood shooting victim, gun control takes on new meaning

    For Kirkwood shooting victim, gun control takes on new meaning

    Violence leaves physical, emotional scars

    By Todd Smith
    Thursday, February 5, 2009 2:51 PM CST

    No memory in my life is stronger than the night of Feb. 7, 2008, when I saw people die instantly when a man felt he could take out his grievances through the use of guns.

    I have moved forward from that day and am taking the grief and trauma as a way to speak up about the need for more regulation of guns to prevent violence in America.

    The city council meeting was to be like any other. Everything was very normal until Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton came into the chamber, pulled out two handguns and opened fire.

    He killed Kirkwood police officers Tom Ballman and Sgt. William Biggs, Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, Councilman Michael Lynch and Councilwoman Connie Karr. Mayor Mike Swoboda, who was also shot, would succumb to his injuries a few months later.

    In the string of gunfire, I felt heat come across my chest and then blood started dripping out of my hand. I thought, I had been shot again, in another violent act by someone who wanted to harm others with a gun.

    Although I was fortunate enough to survive being shot a first time, I did not walk away from that incident. Shortly after moving to New Castle, Del., I was shot in the leg and left to bleed in the parking lot of a shopping center. I had gone to a nearby 7-Eleven when two teenagers came up behind me with guns in their hands, wanting money. I thought I was far enough away to run or they wouldn't shoot, but I was wrong on both counts. Eventually a guy getting gas noticed me sitting down in front of a gas station where I'd hobbled, and he took off his shirt to use as a tourniquet to stop my bleeding.

    The teenagers who committed the act were never found.

    My recovery from these violent episodes has been difficult. The injuries I sustained in the Kirkwood shooting required two surgeries, the second of which involved a joint replacement.

    Emotionally, I have come a long way but have a ways to go. For example, I still have a fear of being alone at night and have fears of being in a setting with a large group of people.

    I never expected to become involved in the gun control debate, but like so many others, I believed my life would be free from gun violence. Also, I am not against guns per se. I grew up in a rural area where guns were used for hunting and most people had them, and I even worked at a gun range. However, there is a difference between being a hunter and hunted. Since the second shooting, I've felt a need to find out what I could do to try and help others from having to endure what I have lived through. From what I have learned, I think microstamping, which would allow police to trace any gun used in a crime, is the right step forward. Microstamping creates a ballistic fingerprint that can identify the specific firearm used in a shooting. This would connect a bullet or cartridge case recovered at a crime scene directly to the make, model and serial number of the gun used in the incident.

    Because microstamping makes it harder for criminals and those who abet them to hide, it should deter gun violence. Even in my cases, microstamping would have helped in finding the perpetrators who shot at me in 1997, since the bullet was pulled out of my leg. Although the identity of who shot me in 2008 is known, how he got the gun remains a mystery. While microstamping might not solve all the problems of gun violence in our society, it would be an important step in bringing healing and peace to myself and those unfortunate enough to become my brothers in arms.

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    Member Array snip's Avatar
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    He apparently does not even understand microstamping as he thinks that the bullet pulled form his leg could be used to identify the gun. He is promoting something he does not even understand himself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by snip View Post
    He apparently does not even understand microstamping as he thinks that the bullet pulled form his leg could be used to identify the gun. He is promoting something he does not even understand himself.
    Most people advocating microstamping have little or no knowledge of the mechanics of firearms, cartridges or bullets. They also fail to acknowledge that criminals are sometimes quite inventive. Firing pins can be altered or replaced or criminals could create a device for capturing brass. Furthermore, even if you could trace the firearm by way of the brass, it would only lead you to someone who allegedly purchased it from an FFL. I have no doubt that there are numerous people who's identities have been stolen for the sole purpose of purchasing guns.

    Ryan
    Those who will not govern their own behavior are slaves waiting for a master; one will surely find them.

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    Member Array dgraing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grady View Post

    There would have been time to return fire if anyone else had been armed, especially if more than one of the council members were armed. The shooter expected the policeman to be armed. I doubt he expected others to be armed.
    Aren't Government (City Hall I presume?) buildings Gun Free Zones? Wouldn't matter much to someone with a CWP as their gun would probably be in their car. Aside from a plain clothes cop the shooter likely knew there wouldn't be any opposition except for the uniformed officer he shot first.

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    VIP Member Array grady's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dgraing View Post
    Aren't Government (City Hall I presume?) buildings Gun Free Zones? Wouldn't matter much to someone with a CWP as their gun would probably be in their car.
    That's part of my point: City Hall was a gun free zone because people passed laws making it (supposedly) gun-free. Those who passed the specific law(s) contributed to the helplessness of the victims.

    Quote Originally Posted by dgraing View Post
    Aside from a plain clothes cop the shooter likely knew there wouldn't be any opposition except for the uniformed officer he shot first.
    Exactly. And the death toll would have been higher had the shooter not encountered the first officer outside in the parking lot, who signalled other officers as he fell mortally wounded.

    Bottom line: the shooter was wrong, and having only one armed officer inside the meeting wasn't enough. The best defense against such a shooting would have been either to have more than one officer present, or to allow council members to be armed. But I doubt the council will ever allow armed council members: they are of the "we need more gun laws to be safe" mindset. It would take total anarchy, and maybe not even that would be enough, to convince most city leaders to allow armed citizens inside government buildings. They do not trust us enough. Yet they trust murderers to obey the "no gun" signs.

    I'd say their thesis gets an "F".

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    Member Array dgraing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grady View Post
    It would take total anarchy, and maybe not even that would be enough, to convince most city leaders to allow armed citizens inside government buildings. They do not trust us enough. Yet they trust murderers to obey the "no gun" signs.
    That's the exact problem right there and it won't be fixed until we can convince those in charge (in this case the state government made the laws that kept firearms from law abiding citizens in government buildings) to change their stance on gun control OR we vote them out of office.

    Until that happens we will continue to read about incidents like this and I fear that we will continue to not heed the warnings and lessons that can be learned from them.

    David

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