Son remembers father killed at Kirkwood City Hall: 'He was mine - KMOV.com

Son remembers father killed at Kirkwood City Hall: 'He was mine and my brother's best friend'

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The Biggs Family (Credit: Family) The Biggs Family (Credit: Family)

KIRKWOOD, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- On Wednesday, the City of Kirkwood will honor the lives lost during a mass shooting at city hall exactly 10 years ago.

Before the gunman, identified as Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, stormed into the council chambers and opened fire, he shot and killed Kirkwood Police Sgt. Bill Biggs, who was walking to get dinner. Thornton then took Biggs’ gun and used it in the massacre.

Thornton made his way inside as a city council meeting was getting underway. He killed Officer Tom Ballman, Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, Council member HT Lynch, and Council member Connie Karr. Police then shot and killed Thornton. The city’s former mayor, Mike Swoboda, died months later from his injuries after he was shot. Swoboda was also battling cancer.

Seven families’ lives were forever changed February 7, 2008. They each have their own story to tell and have found their own way to start healing.

Sgt. Biggs’ widow, Cindy, told News 4 it feels like the shooting happened forever ago, and yet at the same time as if it were just yesterday. While she didn’t want to speak on camera, their son, Cody, shared his memories of his father.

Kirkwood City Hall Shooting: 10 years later

“He was mine and my brother’s best friend,” said Cody Biggs, son of Sgt. Bill Biggs. “He loved being a cowboy, and being a cop was probably one of the only things he could do back in St. Louis that would fill that void for him.”

Bill Biggs grew up in Webster Groves and after working on a cattle ranch in Colorado for years, moved his family back to the St. Louis area in 1997. He went on to the police academy and FBI national academy in Virginia. On the night of February 7, 2008, he was walking to get dinner while on his break as a Kirkwood Police officer when Thornton shot him.

Not long after, shots rang out inside city hall, police swarmed the building, and the news spread fast.

“I waited another 20 minutes and I finally called the police department. When I told them who I was, I was like, ‘I know you guys are busy but I just want to make sure my dad is ok.’ And when they told me to hold on, that’s pretty much when I knew. One of the lieutenants got on and told me I should come down,” said Cody Biggs.

In the years since, the Biggs family has found some comfort in the idea that the emergency button Sgt. Biggs was able to press to alert police, likely saved lives.

“Had he not pushed that button,” said Biggs, “I think ‘Cookie’ could have gotten away with a lot more had he had more time.”

Sgt. Biggs was familiar with ‘Cookie’ Thornton. Thornton graduated from Kirkwood around the same time the elder Biggs graduated from Webster. Biggs was assigned to the Meacham Park neighborhood and Biggs’ son says his dad was well respected there.

“He started a basketball league for the kids,” said Biggs.

Cody Biggs doesn’t believe his dad was necessarily targeted.

“I think if there had been any other police officer in my dad’s shoes in that spot at that time on that night, ‘Cookie’ would have done it to anybody,” said Biggs.

In the 10 years since the shooting, much has changed for the Biggs’ family.

“He’s gotten a bigger family, he has some grand kids now,” said Biggs. “That’s the biggest thing, they won’t have that grandpa. My dad would have been an awesome grandpa.”

Two of those grandchildren belong to Cody’s brother, Bo. Shortly after their father’s death, Bo went into law enforcement. After working for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, where he is still well-respected, he moved to Colorado to be a police officer there.

Their mom, Cindy, says she supported her son following in his father’s footsteps. Even after losing her husband in the line of duty, she says she refuses to worry about Bo because worrying “won’t change anything.”

As they do every year, the family has special plans to remember the life of Sgt. Biggs this week. After his death, they spread his ashes at their lake on the property where Biggs planned to retire. Every year since then, they gather there for a tradition they’ve dubbed “the ring of fire.” Next to a headstone where Biggs’ name is etched, they have a big fire.

“After the first anniversary, my little cousin asked if he could start a bonfire. It started with burning twigs and leafs, now the pit is bigger than this table,” said Cody Biggs. “Some of my dad’s coworkers come out, the family comes out, friends and neighbors and it’s just a remembering of my dad’s life and sacrifice.”

Cody Biggs admits he hasn’t been able to forgive the gunman, but his focus now is making his dad proud and taking care of his mom and growing family.

“Life is way too short to stay angry for that long. My dad would not want us to be angry for that long,” said Biggs.

The family’s circle of support has grown over the years. They’ve been embraced by the Missouri C.O.P.S. organization and BackStoppers. Cindy Biggs has also developed a close friendship with the widow of Tom Ballman, the other police officer killed that night.

On Wednesday night, both Cody and Cindy say they plan to attend Kirkwood’s remembrance ceremony. It will be held on the steps of City Hall. The program, which starts at 7 p.m. will include a Color Guard, music, the lighting of candles, and a few remarks. A procession toward the Memorial Walkway will conclude the program.

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