Kirkwood shooting: Details from families of survivors, those who were killed

KIRKWOOD, Mo. - Ten years ago, the St. Louis area was in shock after a gunman had killed five people inside Kirkwood City Hall.

A regular city council meeting had just started on the night of February 7, 2008. Minutes into the meeting, Kirkwood resident Cookie Thorton burst into the room with two guns. He had just shot Officer Tom Biggs in the head outside of the courthouse. Thornton took his gun and opened fire on the city officials with whom he'd had a long-standing feud. Thorton then shot Officer Tom Ballman while shouting "hands in the air."

Mayor Mike Swoboda was then shot twice in the head but survived. He died that September following a decline in health because of the shooting.

Kirkwood City attorney John Hessel was on the platform that evening and still recalls every detail of what he witnessed. He watched the bloodshed unfold before his eyes.

Councilwoman Connie Karr tried to walk off the platform, but Cookie shot and killed her. Councilman Mike Lynch was shot next. Hessel knew Cookie was coming for him, too. As Thorton pointed both guns right at Hessel, John picked up chairs and threw them at Cookie. That bought Hessel enough time to run.

Police came in moments later and shot and killed Thorton. The entire murderous rampage only lasted 1 minute 12 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity for those who lived through it.

Cindy Ballman, the widow of Officer Tom Ballman, recalls the tremendous sadness that night when she learned her beloved husband had been shot and killed. They had two small children. Much has changed since then. Cindy's children are now teenagers. She still blames Cookie for what happened but said she forgives him, adding that life is too short to be filled with hatred.