- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) — Omar Thornton sat calmly in a meeting with union representative and his supervisors as they showed a video of him stealing beer from the distributorship where he worked.

Busted, he didn’t put up a fight, company officials said. He quietly signed a letter of resignation and was headed for the door when he pulled out a gun and started firing — “cold as ice,” as one survivor described it.

In the end, Mr. Thornton killed eight people and wounded two, then turned the gun on himself in a rampage Tuesday at Hartford Distributors, where at least some of the victims — executives and managers — may have been targeted, police said Wednesday.

Union and company officials said they would not have anticipated such violence from someone with no history of complaints or disciplinary problems. But authorities found two 9 mm handguns at the scene and a shotgun in Mr. Thornton’s car.

Relatives said Mr. Thornton, 34, finally cracked after suffering racial harassment in a company where he said he was singled out for being black in a predominantly white work force.

“Everybody’s got a breaking point,” said Joanne Hannah, the mother of Mr. Thornton’s longtime girlfriend.

After shooting his co-workers, Mr. Thornton hid as police moved in. He called his mother, who tried for 10 minutes to talk him out of killing himself, his uncle Will Holliday told reporters.

“He said, ‘I killed the five racists that was there that was bothering me,’” Mr. Holliday said. “He said, ‘The cops are going to come in, so I am going to take care of myself.’”

Authorities said they found him dead.

Mr. Thornton earlier said he found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a bathroom wall, said Ms. Hannah, of Enfield, whose daughter Kristi had dated Mr. Thornton for the past eight years. Her daughter told her that Mr. Thornton’s supervisors said they would talk to his co-workers.

Brett Hollander, whose family owns the distributor, denied any racial bias. A union official said Mr. Thornton did not filed a complaint of racism with the union or any government agency.

“I can assure you there has never been any racial discrimination at our company,” Mr. Hollander said.

Teamsters official Christopher Roos said, “This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people.”

Company Vice President Steve Hollander told the Associated Press he was stunned by Mr. Thornton’s rampage after a meeting in which he calmly agreed to resign instead of being fired:

“He was cool and calm. He didn’t yell. He was cold as ice. He didn’t protest when we were meeting with him to show him the video of him stealing. He didn’t contest it. He didn’t complain. He didn’t argue. He didn’t admit or deny anything. He just agreed to resign. And then he just unexplainably pulled out his gun and started blasting.”

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