Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton hoped to settle his freedom of speech lawsuit with the City of Kirkwood in order to move to Florida and be with his wife, a middle-school principal in St. Petersburg, according to a longtime family friend.
“He was thinking he was going to prove harassment, get a settlement and move to Florida, happily ever-after,” says John Bick, a 61-year-old Kirkwood resident who has known Thornton’s mother, Annie, for most of his life. In fact, 83-year-old Annie Thornton was his nanny while he was growing up in Creve Coeur and Ladue. She was also the nanny to Bick’s own five daughters.
Bick says Annie Thornton is originally from Florida. The St. Petersburg Times reported today that Cookie Thornton’s relatives own property in Pinellas County, including a residence on Lake Maggiore Boulevard in St. Petersburg, where Maureen Thornton lives.
Maureen Thornton is the principal at John Hopkins Middle School and used to teach in Kirkwood, the Times reported. Bick says the Thorntons have lived in Florida, off-and-on, for the past five years or so. While his wife had a full-time job in Florida, “Cookie” Thornton lived part of the year in his parents’ home on Attucks Street and ran an asphalt paving and demolition business. “How much work could you do, fighting city hall, and have a business?” Bick wonders.
Thornton was frequently seen holding signs in protest at the Sam’s Club on Big Bend, just outside the Meacham Park neighborhood. Bick says he saw Thornton there with his sign about six months ago. Thornton vented to Bick about the city’s latest transgression, saying, ‘I just want to settle. I want to move out of town. I want to be gone. I want to go to Florida.’ Bick says, “I didn’t know he was that far into it.”
Thornton’s fight with Kirkwood was the result of dozens of tickets he received for parking his work vehicles illegally. Bick remembers hearing about one instance in which Thornton, in a pinch, had parked a work truck on the parking lot at Sam’s, which backs up to the Meacham Park neighborhood but lies in the City of Crestwood. Thornton believed Kirkwood officials informed on him. Bick says, “They were going out of their way to be jerks.”
Thornton had been repeatedly thrown out of meetings and charged with disorderly conduct after he referred to the mayor as a “jackass,” and accused the council of having a “plantation mentality.” Thornton shot seven people, killing five of them, at a City Council meeting Thursday evening. The shooting spree came ten days after a federal judge rejected the free-speech lawsuit he filed in January 2007.
Bick thinks a series of events over the past ten to seven years, including problems with his business and the death of his father, George, created stress for the 52-year-old Thornton. Says Bick: “He needed help.”