A gunman with a history of acrimony against civic leaders stormed City Hall during a council meeting, killing two police officers and three city officials before law enforcers fatally shot him, authorities said. The mayor was critically injured in the rampage.
The victims at the meeting on Thursday night in suburban St. Louis were killed after the gunman rushed the council chambers and began firing as he yelled "Shoot the mayor!" according to St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus.
Two people were wounded before Kirkwood police fatally shot him, she said.
Names of the victims were not to have been released until a news conference yesterday morning. But the wounded included Mayor Mike Swoboda, who was in critical condition in the intensive care unit of St. John's Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur, hospital spokesman Bill McShane said, declining to discuss the nature of the injuries.
McShane said another victim, Suburban Journals newspaper reporter Todd Smith, was in satisfactory condition.
The gunman killed one officer outside City Hall, then walked into the chambers and shot another before continuing to fire, Panus said.
Janet McNichols, a reporter covering the meeting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, told the newspaper that the 7pm 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 Lynch and Connie Karr were also 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.
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.
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 paper 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.
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.
In a federal lawsuit stemming from those meetings, Thornton, representing himself, insisted that Kirkwood officials violated his constitutional right to free speech by barring him from speaking at the meetings. But a judge in St. Louis tossed out the suit on Jan. 28.