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MAN OPENS FIRE ON COUNCIL

He kills two officers and three other people in Missouri before he is killed.

A gunman with a history of acrimony against city leaders stormed a City Council meeting Thursday night, killing two police officers and three other people before police fatally shot him, authorities said.

At least one council member, Connie Karr, was among the dead, and Mayor Mike Swoboda was among two other people who were injured, one critically, according to a reporter present at the meeting.

The gunman was identified by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter as Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton. Thornton has relatives who own property in Pinellas County, including a residence on Lake Maggiore Boulevard in St. Petersburg, according to public records.

The records show that the Lake Maggiore Boulevard property is owned by Maureen Thornton, who is the principal at John Hopkins Middle School. The school Web site says she once taught in Kirkwood.

The violence began about 7 p.m. when the man approached a police officer in a parking lot near a police station in the St. Louis suburb and shot and killed the officer, said police spokeswoman Tracy Panus.

Moments later, the man appeared inside City Hall, a short walk away. He shot another police officer, then fatally shot three other people who were at the council meeting, Panus said. He yelled "Shoot the mayor" as he began firing, she said. Two others were wounded before police killed the gunman, she said.

The gunman also fired at City Attorney John Hessel, who tried to fight off the attacker by throwing chairs, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Janet McNichols said. The shooter then moved behind the desk where the council sits and fired more shots at council members, she said.

"Tonight our fellow Missourians in the city of Kirkwood were terrorized by a senseless and horrific crime at an open government meeting," Gov. Matt Blunt said in a statement. "I join Missourians tonight in praying for the victims, their families and friends, and everyone in the community of Kirkwood."

McNichols said about 30 people were in the council chambers. She said that police Officer Tom Ballman was shot in the head, as was public works director Kenneth Yost, and that Swoboda was wounded. She said council member Michael H.T. Lynch also was shot.

Police had not named the victims or the shooter.

Thornton was not a stranger to the Kirkwood council. In May 2006, he was handcuffed and pulled from a meeting. He was charged with disorderly conduct and released. McNichols said he often aimed his ire at the mayor and at Yost.

Late last month, a federal judge in St. Louis dismissed a lawsuit in which Thornton, representing himself, claimed Kirkwood officials violated his free speech rights by prohibiting him from speaking out at meetings.

Thornton often made outrageous comments at public meetings, according to a 2006 article in the weekly Webster-Kirkwood Times.

The newspaper 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."

The mayor said at the time that the council considered banning Thornton from meetings but decided against it.

"The City Council has decided that they will not lower themselves to Mr. Thornton's level," Swoboda said at the meeting. "We will act with integrity and continue to deal with him at these council proceedings. However, we will not allow Mr. Thornton, or any other person, to disrupt these proceedings."

Mary Linehares, a teacher who lives about four blocks from City Hall, described the town as quiet and eclectic. "It's like a small town in St. Louis. You can call it Mayberry."

Information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Associated Press, New York Times and Times staff writer Graham Brink was used in this report.

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