Two men are in custody and being questioned after Washington Park, Ill., Mayor John Thornton was shot and died early Thursday, police said.
Thornton was shot three times in the chest at close range at 5:47 a.m. Thursday, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said. He died at 6:07 a.m. at Kenneth Hall Hospital in East St. Louis. He was 52.
The shooter was in the car with Thornton, Washington Park Chief of Detectives Kim McAfee said. Several shots were heard, the car ran off the road and hit a tree. Then the shooter jumped out and limped to a red and white Chevrolet Impala that was waiting for him.
The driver and car were found at the Roosevelt Homes public housing project and the driver was taken into custody, McAfee said. Illinois State Police Capt. Todd Kilby said Thursday afternoon that two men were in custody, the investigation was still very active but charges were not expected Thursday.
"They took a big chunk out of my heart today," said the mayor's son, John Thornton Jr., after a noon prayer vigil at the Village Hall. "He was a role model that not everyone had. He taught me to be a politician, to be a man, to have multiple skills so you had something to fall back on because sometimes things don't go right.
"He was my daddy."
Thornton's car remained at 47th Street and Caseyville Avenue, where it was resting next to a tree, for most of Thursday. Police officers from several communities gathered and consoled the mayor's son, John Jr., who is assistant fire chief for the village's volunteer department.
McAfee at 8 a.m. said there was a person in custody for questioning and by 8:30 a.m. he said it was the driver of the red and white Chevy Impala. The driver and car were found at the Roosevelt Homes, which is less than a mile from where Thornton was found shot in his car. Police towed the vehicle and cuffed the driver, who was in Illinois State Police custody.
Kilby at 4:15 p.m. Thursday said a second person of interest was in custody.
Washington Park Police Chief Calvin Hammonds said Thornton had worked overnight at the Metro East Sanitary District and left early because his replacement arrived. Hammonds got to Thornton while he was still in the car, then went to the hospital with him. Hammonds later was with Thornton's son as they went to tell the mayor's wife, Sharon, of his death. Hammonds said he was close to John Jr.
McAfee said the mayor was in the habit of zigzagging home from work and checking on things in the village. He might have been in the area because there was a house that was about to be demolished.
McAfee said he believes that the shooter stopped the mayor to ask for money— Thornton was known for giving handouts. He said he thinks the shooter jumped in and tried to rob Thornton when he saw the mayor had more money.
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