March 20, 2009
Thirteen months and two weeks have passed since the carnage at a Kirkwood Council meeting that left two police officers, a city official and two city council members dead. The mayor died months later in part from his injuries that night. The shooter was also killed.
Council member Connie Karr was among those killed that night. Her friends still grieve. On a recent Sunday afternoon, more than a dozen of them gathered in a Kirkwood home for a grief therapy session with Larry Kiel Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. The Times was invited to listen.
A Kirkwood resident himself, Kiel offered his services at no charge to facilitate groups such as this after the Feb. 8 events. His resume includes grief counselling following the murder of one Lindbergh High School student by another a couple of years ago.
The friends at the recent meeting were mostly women. Many had been actively campaigning for Connie Karr in her bid to become mayor of Kirkwood. They believed Karr represented hope for members of the community who felt disenfranchised. They believed her style of leadership would make city government more open and more accessible.
These friends still suffer a grief that is deeply personal. Some have experienced depression, nightmares, lethargy and loss of hope. Some can't watch TV shows with guns. Many feel unable to go into the Kirkwood City Council chambers. Some were able to work in other political campaigns. Others found themselves suddenly apathetic.
All had lost a friend whom they believed would represent fairly the causes they believed to be important.
The causes they believed Connie would support included things like limiting the scope of condominium projects in Kirkwood, green space preservation, a highway sound wall and most of all, a new transparency in city government.
Many of them are still very angry. They are angry at the shooter. They are angry at a system they feel was unable or unwilling to diffuse Cookie Thornton's anger before it boiled over. They are angry at a city government they believe excludes debate and discussion. They are angry about feeling like they have been excluded from a committee that is planning a memorial for those who died. They are angry with the media for avoiding what they consider "the real story."
Many of them were active in initial meetings of Community for Understanding and Healing (CFUH), a group that continues to meet on a regular basis to help citizens sort out the issues that contributed to the carnage at city hall. Some dropped out because they believed that CFUH was focusing only on racial divisions in Kirkwood. The underlying issues of a government which they believe did not show respect to citizens that were outside an "exclusive circle of influence," has not been satisfactorily addressed. Their friend Connie had been an icon whom they believe transcended that circle.
"I heard an awful lot of grief," said Kiel of the meeting. "I would say it was an outpouring of emotion that developed some collegiality by the virtue of the group and of seeing others go through the same processes."
At the end of the meeting, Kiel introduced the possibility of forgiveness. But it had already been a long afternoon.
Anger is a step in the process of healing. It has to express itself before there can be acceptance and healing. The path these friends walk is a long one.