Suburban Journals Fires Reporter Who Took Bullet During Kirkwood Shootings

toddsmithmug.jpg
Todd Smith is looking for a new job.
The Suburban Journals, sister paper to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, last week laid off the reporter who took a bullet in the hand during the infamous February 7, 2008, Kirkwood City Council shootings.

Todd Smith, 37, and a Journals reporter since September 2006, was the only person injured in the shootings to survive. He said the newspaper laid him off last Wednesday for budgetary reasons.

"I got called in Tuesday and told I needed to be at a meeting on Wednesday," Smith said. "I'd heard that the Post and [an unnamed] reporter won an award for the Kirkwood coverage, so at first I thought it might be about that."

But when Smith walked in for the meeting on Wednesday, April 15, he was told he was one of numerous people being let go across the chain.

Smith was the online editor for the West County and South County editions. "I thought I was OK since the Internet and the website are the future, and performance-wise I was doing fine. My family is obviously really not happy that I took a bullet for a business. But I guess in these economic times that isn't enough to save you."

Smith was a metro reporter covering Webster Groves and Kirkwood at the time of the February, 2008, Kirkwood shootings and went to Kirkwood City Hall to cover what he thought would be a regular City Council meeting. It was the night that Cookie Thornton stormed in with a .44-caliber Magnum, and in a mere one minute and 32 seconds killed five people -- two council members, the city's public works director and two police officers -- before police shot and killed him.

Smith took one of Thornton's bullets in the right hand. He immediately pulled out his cell phone with his left hand to call the Journals. "I said they'd need to send somebody else, because I'd been shot in the hand."

Smith spent several days in the hospital and has since undergone two surgeries to repair his shattered hand. He has been interviewed by numerous news outlets, including NBC Nightly News and other national news outlets -- generating headlines for the Journals.

Last fall, when former Mayor Mike Swoboda died from injuries sustained during the shootings, Smith said he got the call with the news on a weekend, while attending the Clayton Art Fair. "That was really hard to take," he recalls. "I ended up going in to put that news online. I was a good employee. But it was also an emotional moment, because I was the last person shot who was still alive."

The Kirkwood shootings have again made news in the past two weeks. On Monday April 13, the Society of Professional Journalists announced that the Post-Dispatch won its prestigious Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting of the breaking-news event.

And yesterday, the Post-Dispatch announced that it was a finalist (but did not win) in the coveted Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news coverage of the shootings.

Says Smith: "This [lay-off] is the second shooting I know I can survive. It's just a tough pill to swallow. If you know of anyone hiring..."


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