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

02/08/2008 - 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 extremely popular when he was a 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 areas of his life, 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 proposed to his wife at a banquet of the well-known, local, student organization, Club 44, 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 did have a problem concerning his construction company. He parked his construction equipment in places not designated for such machinery, and he aggravated citizens in those areas by not following the rules. He and I discussed this situation at length. 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 nearly all African American neighborhood in which he lived, St. Louis County had not enforced these rules very strictly. But when citizens in Meacham Park and Kirkwood voted for Kirkwood to annex the Meacham Park neighborhood, the administration of Kirkwood began to enforce these ordinances, and Cookie perceived that he was being mistreated. Both white and African American friends told Cookie he must adjust to the law, but Cookie decided that he was being targeted, mistreated, and discriminated against by city officials.

When his fines for tickets grew to thousands of dollars, Cookie told me that the city of Kirkwood said they would drop all fines if he would just follow 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 wanted this matter settled between Cookie and themselves.

However, at the end of five months of talking and visiting construction sites with Cookie, I could not say that he was any 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. On the one hand 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 would hold a sign labeling the mayor a "jackass" and then speak 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 trying their best 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 with relationships between blacks and whites in the American society, however, 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. While some residents welcomed the buy-out, others protested vehemently over this perceived—and possibly actual—racist action by the white power structure.

Cookie believed his company had been promised a large part of the demolition work, and when he did not get it, he told me it was one more act of discrimination against a black businessman. 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 black citizens in the Meacham Park neighborhood also perceived. A significant number of Meacham Park citizens protested the destruction of their homes for a mall. In their thinking, this was 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.

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 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, and inexplicable 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.

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    Well-written Report
    February 15, 2008 | 12:06 PM

    Mr. McCallie, you have written an amazingly fair and balanced description of what cannot be termed a strictly black or white situation. As an obvious outsider from across the country (GA), I could not possibly know the historical background of the Meacham Park neighborhood and the city of Kirkwood. What I do know, however, is that no incident happens in a vacuum, and a vital part of disseminating news is seeking to understand the why's about a tragedy such as this. You have pieced together a sad portrait of a man who was imperfect but not "evil"; in the annals of history, such details are often forgotten. Thank you for offering a complete view of what led to this event. I offer my condolences to Kirkwood, and specifically, the families who have been hurt by their loss.

    Atlanta, GA
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