(KTVI) – It’s been five years since a gunman opened fire at Kirkwood City Hall during a council meeting killing five people and injuring two others before shot and killed him. City Attorney, John Hessel was at the February 7, 2008 meeting. “I remember every second of it prior to the meeting and the entire shooting incident at the meeting. I remember the first shot” said Hessel.
Hessel didn’t see the gunman, 52-year-old, Charles ‘Cookie’ Thornton when he entered the council chambers. “But I heard his voice. So I looked up and he dropped this placard and i saw two guns and I immediately heard the shot and I can still hear the shot in my head and i can still smell the gunpowder.”
Hessel looked on in disbelieve as Thornton opened fire. When he ran, Thornton chased him then cut him off. “He was literally standing in front of me..three feet with both guns pointed at me and I thought I’m going to die. I got mad and I picked up a chair and I stepped towards him and hit him as hard as I could with the chair and he was falling back.”
Thinking quickly, Hessel ran out of city hall and into police officers who entered the building then shot and killed Thorton, the man responsible for taking the life of the mayor, two council members, the public works director and two police officers. “It was the worst most horrific thing anyone could ever experience.”
Instead of being angry, Hessel focuses on the good. “It solidified friendships, opened up doors for new friendships, opened eyes to how valuable life is. you have to put aside anger.”
That helps as he plans to attend Thursday’s city council meeting, five years to the day of the attack. “It’s going to be hard to be at a council meeting on February 7th. It’s going to be very hard. I just hope that the people, the city is not remembered for that shooting incident. They’re remembered for how they dealt with it.”
A lot has changed at Kirkwood City Hall since the mass shooting. An elaborate security system is in place and uniformed and plain clothes officers attend city council meetings.
There will be a special recognition in honor of those who died and survived the attack.