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Memorial dedicated to 6 killed in Kirkwood City Council shooting

Monday, May 31, 2010 | 3:30 p.m. CDT; updated 8:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 1, 2010

KIRKWOOD — Visitors to the Kirkwood City Hall will now walk along a path dedicated to the six public servants who died when a resident went on a shooting rampage at a city council meeting.

The city on Sunday dedicated the Memorial Walkway, which includes plaques honoring former Mayor Mike Swoboda, city council members Connie Karr and Mike Lynch, Public Works Director Ken Yost, police Sgt. Bill Biggs and police officer Tom Ballman.

All but Swoboda died in February 2008, when Kirkwood resident Charles Thornton began shooting during a city council meeting before two police officers shot and killed him. Swoboda died seven months later of complications from his injuries.

The memorial includes benches, a garden and a fountain. An inscription reads: "The citizens of Kirkwood dedicate this path in honor of the fine public servants who lost their lives in service to the community, on Feb. 7, 2008."

"It's nice to see there is some respect for public servants," Ballman's widow, Cindy, said Sunday. "I'm honored the city would do this. I think we're really going to enjoy coming here."

The dedication was delayed while the city waited for a granite fountain in the shape of a ball to finish the display, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

But some of the family, friends and Kirkwood residents who attended Sunday's ceremony said it was fitting that the memorial be dedicated on Memorial Day weekend.

"We all realize that no memorial will heal what was lost on Feb. 7, 2008," said Mayor Art McDonnell, a council member then who survived the shooting and became mayor several weeks later.

The goal was to create a beautiful place where people can remember what the victims sacrificed and how the community united after the shooting.

Many of the city's 27,000 residents sent cards or attended fundraisers to support those whose family and friends had died. Thousands attended vigils and funerals and many returned to a remembrance ceremony a year after the shooting.

Since the shooting, efforts have been made to find common ground between the mostly black Meacham Park neighborhood, where Thorton lived, and the rest of largely white Kirkwood. Thornton, a black man, had long-standing complaints with city officials.

In January, city officials and some Kirkwood residents signed an agreement mediated by the U.S. Justice Department that is intended to begin healing racial division in the city. The agreement seeks to make the city more responsive to resident concerns, but some residents criticized it as not going far enough.

The city paid $500,000 to fund the Memorial Walkway project. One resident who believed the memorial should be funded by private money brought the city to court over the matter, but a judge rejected the argument.

Councilman Ignatius "Iggy" Yuan said it's still hard to remember the shooting and its aftermath.

"Great people lost their lives for silly, stupid reasoning," he said. "It brings it all back."


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