A pastor's mission to help a city heal

"Even the folks who knew Cookie Thornton the most, were deeply surprised by this as well."

KIRKWOOD, Mo. – Kirkwood United Methodist Church pastor David Bennett has been in Kirkwood for nearly 20 years.

He was with his congregation the night of the shooting.

"Even the folks who knew Cookie Thornton the most, were deeply surprised by this as well," he said.

It was his church, where he said Kirkwood began to heal just days after the horrific shooting.

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"What set us in motion was holding the funeral for Cookie Thornton in this church,” he said.

Not a popular move at the time, in the days following the shooting, he saw a divide, he saw a need, he saw Thornton's funeral as the first step.

"It didn't come without a bit of a cost. I had some phone calls and had some church members that were not too happy with me,” Bennett said.

From there, it was bringing together both sides of the community. Meacham Park was the neighborhood where Cookie Thornton lived, but it was often overlooked as part of the Kirkwood community.

"So, we formed this group for understanding and healing, he said.

But it kept evolving and eventually meant changing laws, and creating a Human Rights Commission with actual power.

"A team of about 14 folks met for about a year, and discovering issues in the community, racial and other issues too,” he said.

The Commission now meets once a month and has an annual budget.