Retired Kirkwood High Principal Franklin McCallie Releases Statement About Shooting, Cookie Thornton

February 09, 2008
As the former 22 year principal of Kirkwood High School and a Kirkwood citizen for the past 29 years, I knew, respected, and had affection for every single person involved in the terrible tragedy which took place in our community Thursday night, Feb. 7th.

Five years ago in 2003, I communicated with my friend Cookie Thornton in one-on-one meetings and through phone calls for almost five months from late January to early May in trying to reach a solution to his stalemate with the Kirkwood City Council and the Kirkwood Department of Public Works.

Cookie was a vivacious, enthusiastic member of the Kirkwood Community and had been an extremely popular student at Kirkwood High School. Since he graduated five years before I became principal, I did not meet him until he returned to Kirkwood to form his own construction company. In most cases, Cookie had no trouble getting along with anyone. He was a full-time booster for young people's activities within the Meacham Park neighborhood and the wider Kirkwood community. He was one of the most out-going persons I ever met. He proposed to his wife at a Club 44 young people's banquet in front of over 100 kids and adults. My wife and I attended his wedding to his wonderful wife and educator, Maureen, and I saw him often in the community. We hugged each time we met.

However, Cookie encountered a major problem concerning his construction company. He and I discussed this situation at length and studied several hundred pages of legal documents together. Most of those documents ticketed Cookie for parking his construction equipment in places not designated for such machinery. I talked with both black and white citizens who were annoyed over his habit of parking machinery where he thought it was acceptable, but was not legal under Kirkwood ordinance. In the largely African American neighborhood in which he lived, St. Louis County had not enforced these rules very closely. But when citizens in Meacham Park and Kirkwood voted for Kirkwood to annex the Meacham Park neighborhood, the Kirkwood administration began to enforce these ordinances, and Cookie perceived he was being mistreated and made to conform to an overly strict interpretation of the laws. Both white and African American friends told Cookie he must adjust to the law, but Cookie decided that he was being targeted and discriminated against by city officials.

When his fines for tickets grew to thousands of dollars, Cookie told me that Kirkwood officials said they would drop all fines if he would adjust to the law. In our long talks, I begged him to do this, but Cookie said it was a matter of principle that he should sue the city for discriminating against him for "PWB: parking while black."

I, among others, then suggested that he drop his opposition and stop harassing the council members in open meeting or get a lawyer and sue the city to see what the legal system would rule. I also wrote letters to the city council to say that Cookie and I were working on this problem, and I had positive communication with the mayor and other council members and the head of the Department of Public Works, all of whom expressed the desire to settle this matter between Cookie and themselves.

However, at the end of five months of studying documents, talking, and visiting construction sites with Cookie, he was no closer to believing that he was not being targeted unfairly, even though I was not the only close friend—white or black—telling him that he was mistaken in his perception, at least as pertains to his construction equipment. He loved his home city of Kirkwood, but he became obsessed with his perceived mistreatment, and he acted out in council meetings in a way that no one would have expected. At some meetings, he held a sign labeling the mayor a "jackass" and then spoke gibberish for three minutes, implying that this was the only way to communicate with a "jackass."

In one open meeting, I rose to say to the council that Cookie Thornton was a close friend of mine but that I disagreed with the treatment that he was giving to these public servants who were attempting to run a good city government. Cookie continued to embrace me after that public statement, but still did not agree with me.

The above description is accurate as pertains to construction equipment. As is often the case, however, with relationships between blacks and whites in the American society, general community issues were a poignant background to Cookie's specific issues of racism. After the annexation of Meacham Park to Kirkwood, the city council approved the creation of a shopping mall which required the destruction of a large number of homes in Meacham Park. Some residents, including Cookie, welcomed the buy-out and redevelopment of Meacham Park; others protested vehemently. Some black and white citizens still cite certain details in the buy-out as "racist insensitivity" by the white power structure. Cookie believed his company had been promised significant demolition work. When he did not get it, he told me it was one more act of discrimination against a black businessman, with all money going to white companies for destroying black houses.

Thus, the specific issue of parking construction equipment and the fines for those acts under Kirkwood ordinance were bundled together in Cookie's mind with an overall perception of racism over issues which many other citizens in Meacham Park also perceived. Many Meacham Park citizens protested the destruction of their homes for a mall. They perceived one more racist slight by the powerful white community over the smaller and powerless black community. Meacham Park residents who protested this issue, however, did so in orderly and constructive meetings under leadership from the Meacham Park Neighborhood Association.

Why, then, did the events of Thursday night, Feb. 7, take place? The horror of the act and the pain of Kirkwoodians with whom I have spoken are crushing. Based on my interaction with Cookie, I believe the obsession of discrimination — whether real or perceived overwhelmed Cookie's judgment, causing him to do something completely against his normal nature. Cookie Thornton wounded the mayor and a newspaper journalist. Worst yet, he killed two outstanding professionals on the Kirkwood police force and three equally wonderful public servants within our city government in a brutal, inexcusable act, the act of a person in vengeful, mental chaos.

These exceptional persons are an unimaginable loss to our community. Kirkwoodians will sorely miss their daily contributions to our civic and personal lives. Our grief will be long and painful throughout Kirkwood, including the Meacham Park neighborhood.

As wrong as Cookie Thornton was in his judgment about the specifics of his parking fines and his terrible acts on that Thursday night, I am convinced Kirkwood will only move forward again as we acknowledge our need to come together as one people.

  1. report reply print email
    February 09, 2008 | 04:01 PM

    As former residents of Kirkwood, my family and I send our condolences to the entire community following this horrible tragedy, and I thank Mr. McCallie for his thoughtful and reasonable reflection upon the events leading up to it.

    Kathy Reiff
    Groton, Massachusetts
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    Deep Sorrow
    February 09, 2008 | 09:25 PM

    As a former resident of Kirkwood and the Assistant Administrator of St. Joseph Hospital I am deeply troubled and sorrowful about this tragedy. I worked closely with city officials and in particular the Police Department and its fine Chief Dan Linza. I have the greatest respect for this city and all of its wonderful people. After many years of being gone, I still feel that Kirkwood is one of the finest places I have been privileged to have lived. My prayers go out to everyone in Kirkwood for spiritual, physical and emotional healing.

    Ray Breiding, FACHE
    Grand Haven, MI
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    Another Opportunity To Grow Together
    February 11, 2008 | 05:11 PM

    Our communities need to pray together and then rededicate ourselves to build bridges of understanding. Dozens of us must accept the challenges required to form a full community with those from Meacham Park. Most small American suburbs are built with apathy. Kirkwood is known for its care and concern about everything. All the little issues become important us. Our yards are filled with yard signs and opinions. We care about each other. The annexing of Meacham requires years of understanding and out reach. From the pews we must practice the outreach needed so that people of all faiths and races and ages feel heard.
    The mental illness that consumed Cookie needed to be addressed in ways that Franklin McCaulle could not handle alone.
    Many missed opportunities now call of us to reach out and listen and hug the hurts out of our community. It will take years of hard work.
    Our church leaders need to challenge us on this major building project for people of conscience to begin. Wonderful cherish public servants have given their lives for us. We can not let them die in vain.

    Joe Dahlem
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    Sorrow over the tragedy
    February 11, 2008 | 06:36 PM

    Being away from Kirkwood the past few years and seeing the city cast in the national spotlight for two horrific events has troubled me. First a child kdnapper/molester and now shootings at city hall. In the past 4 years police shootings have tripled. Where has our small town charm gone? Our safe haven? I remember t-shirts from a fifth grade field trip we took that read "Is this heaven? No It's Kirkwood."
    Franklin McCallie as always has offered a non discriminatory approach to such a horrific event. And I certainly applaud his efforts to help someone in need.

    Ethan Barnett
    Chicago Illinois
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    Deepest Sympathies
    February 11, 2008 | 08:58 PM

    On so many levels these recent events ring so loudly of the truths, both unspoken/and spoken that we all bear as a modern society. As a former resident of Kirkwood myself and having fond memories of the town, its people, and all that it represents. Now I am several thousand miles away, but Kirkwood is near at heart all of the time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody. As a society we all have to learn from these events and move forward into a postive example for the future of Kirkwood and all of the country. It seems these days that such events happen all to often, but never to so close to home. I ask a student if they had heard about the recent shootings in the news and their reply was " No- where at now". It was so strange-so matter-of-fact. This from a young man who has grown up here in Phx. Az.. To read Franklin McCallies attempts to help this man, and keep things on even! That's just how I remember him guiding us all through good times and bad during my high school years.....Our deepest sympathies extend to all of the families involved both directly and indirectly with last weeks tragic events.

    Kent Shadburne
    Phoenix, Az
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    February 11, 2008 | 09:13 PM

    My sincerest condolences to all involved in the tragic shootings. As a 1978 graduate of KHS, I must say I was deeply hurt and saddened to see what had happened in Kirkwood to so many, not just those killed but the community at large. My prayers are with the Mayor in his recovery and the families of the shooting victims. God bless you all.

    Cynthia (Dickman) Clark
    Colorado Springs, Colorado
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    Sad, but we need the truth
    February 13, 2008 | 10:25 AM

    I keep hearing two different stories. The parking fines but his family says it goes much deeper than that. How can we find out the TRUTH? What does the family mean it's much higher than Kirkwood. Until people really SPEAK on the issue nothing will ever be resolved or healed.

    Angela Loux
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    Cookie Thornton
    February 14, 2008 | 07:12 AM

    Was he married before? I believe I worked with his former wife at Levits Furniture. Does anyone know? Such a tragedy.

    linda dazey
    valley park
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    Tragic Shooting
    February 14, 2008 | 09:03 AM

    My father taught Biology at Kirkwood High School until his retirement and raised his five children there. I lived in Kirkwood for the first ten years of my marriage. I was sooo happy to be part of this wonderful, caring, big hearted town.
    Sadly,this scene has become all too common in our nation.We recently endured the senseless murders of five women at a Lane Bryant store. I can now forsee a need for metal detectors everywhere. Schools, malls, stores, etc. Sadly,this is what we have come to.
    My deepest sympathies to the victims families.
    Linda Piro Kohlfeld
    St Charles, Il.

    Linda Kohlfeld
    St. Charles, IL
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    Open hearts, minds critical in reactions to violence
    February 14, 2008 | 01:00 PM

    Regarding previous comments, I don't think our 'small town charm' has gone anywhere. However, being a small, charming town does not protect us from the realities of the world. These realities include kidnapping, racism and violence. As a member of the Kirkwood community, I would encourage Kirkwoodians to break free of the idea that 'this kind of thing doesn't happen here.' It shouldn't happen here, or anywhere, but we can't prevent it by ignoring it.
    We may never know the truth, or truths, of these and other troubling incidents, but we can seek to keep our hearts and minds open in response to them. That seems to me like the only way we can hope for understanding in an a world that increasingly seems incomprehensible.
    I think Franklin McCallie excels at this, and I thank him for his contributions to our town and the individuals in it. Let's learn from his example of care and compassion as we move forward in the wake of this tragedy, seeking to heal and strengthen our community.

    Mandi Rice
    Kirkwood, Missouri
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    Response from Franklin McCallie's Letter
    February 14, 2008 | 01:56 PM

    I moved to Kirkwood BECAUSE it was more diverse then some other communities. When I first moved to Missouri, we settled in a different community. We lived there for only 6 months, when they found out that my husband was not white, everyone stopped speaking to me, and my children were made to feel less then everyone else in the school. It is a very sad thing. This society needs to change. We are all the same people. Treating someone badly hurts them and you at the same time.
    Kirkwood has always been accepting of our family. I have yet to run into someone that has given me a bad look or treated my children harshly. My children attend Keysor Elementary where they have an awesome Civil Rights team put together by Mrs. Borman. She teaches 5th grade and in turn, they teach the rest of the school and the surrounding community how to respect each other and love one another regardless of how they look, dress,what color they are, or whatever.
    Adults need to take a step back and learn from our children.
    There is hatred everywhere, whether it be whites disliking african americans, or african americans disliking whites... whatever the case may be.. We are all one people and we need to come together as one people. If Meacham Park is having issues, maybe we need to come together as ONE community and hear what the issues are and how they can be solved fairly. The Whole community is in mourning because of the sense of dicrimination from someone. Whether it was true discrimination or not doesnt matter, what matters is the fact that a Kirkwoodian felt this way, and noone listened. We need to listen to our people. Every single person that lives here is what makes Kirkwood what it is..
    Let's help Kirkwood heal and become one with each other. Let's show our children diversity and love.
    Show the world that it CAN and IS being done, starting here... in Kirkwood.

    Sherry Fikrat
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    Cookie Thornton
    February 20, 2008 | 09:12 AM

    Another view of the Cookie Thornton story

    Beverly Terry
    St. Louis
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