KIRKWOOD, Mo. (CN) - Six years after his uncle interrupted a Kirkwood City Council meeting with a hail of bullets, Jayson M. Thornton is running for one of the seats that was once in the crosshairs of his uncle's gun.
Thornton says he didn't plan to run for City Council. The 30-year-old accountant said his neighbors came to him. After collecting 117 signatures in two days to get his name on the April 8 ballot, Thornton said he was all in.
He believes his accounting experience will help the city with its projected $65 million budget.
"The question should always be asked, 'Does this expenditure really improve the quality of life of all Kirkwood residents?'" Thornton told Courthouse News. "As an accountant, I understand how to work within a budget. I understand how to look through line items and try to find, 'Is this item really being spent on what we need, or is there waste in there?'"
Thornton said his main wish is that his campaign for city Council be treated like any other's, that he be judged on his merits alone.
But this is far from a run-of-the-mill City Council campaign.
On Feb. 7, 2008, Charles "Cookie" Thornton went on a shooting spree during a Kirkwood City Council meeting. Five people were killed before Charles Thornton took his own life. Kirkwood's mayor, who was shot in the head, died months later.
The affluent suburb of St. Louis was thrust into a national spotlight. In the weeks after, Charles Thornton's personal issues with the City Council became well-publicized, as did tensions between Meacham Park - Kirkwood's lone predominantly African-American community, where the Thorntons live - and the rest of the city.
Now, just over six years later, Jayson Thornton is not only running to better a city he loves, but to restore a family name tarnished by his uncle.
A Family Legacy
Before February 2008, the Thornton name had been synonymous with community service in Kirkwood.
Jayson Thornton's grandfather, George Thornton, was known for voluntarily picking up trash in Meacham Park. George Thornton was recognized by city leaders for picking up more than 500 lbs. of trash in a single event.
"We are just deep in this community," Jayson Thornton said. "We love Meacham Park. We love Kirkwood. So it's just something that's important. It's not anything new to the residents that Jayson Thornton is running for City Council because that's what my family is all about - giving back to a community that's given us so much."
The family's reputation made Charles Thornton's massacre a stunning blow for many Kirkwood residents.
Kirk Hawkins has lived in Kirkwood since 1974. He remembers that when he was in high school on Kirkwood's track team Charles Thornton came back from college and volunteered to help coach the team.
"I could not be more shocked," Hawkins said after the shooting spree. "It couldn't be a further change in personality for him. He was always an outgoing and friendly guy. He was always smiling."
Thornton hopes his campaign, and the job he would do if elected, will bring back those smiles again when people hear his family name.