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Police: Gunman at beer warehouse targeted managers
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
Steve Hollander said he thinks Mr. Thornton had guns stashed in his lunch box. The executive said two people standing near him were fatally shot in the head, but he was only grazed in the jaw and the arm.
“He shot at me twice and hit me a couple times,” he said. “By just the grace of God, I don’t know how he missed (killing) me.”
“I was on the phone with 911, and then I saw him running outside of my office window, shooting his gun, carrying his lunch box, which must have had his weapons in it,” Steve Hollander said. “It doesn’t seem real to me now.”
The shooting was over in minutes. The victims were found all over the complex, and authorities said they didn’t know whether Mr. Thornton fired randomly or targeted people.
“Some were hiding in the woods, and some were hiding under cars,” he said.
State police found weapons in the suspect’s car, Chief. Montminy said without providing details.
Mr. Thornton was not a problem employee and had not had any previous disciplinary issues, said Gregg Adler, a lawyer for the Teamsters Local 1035. He said he was not aware of how much beer Mr. Thornton was accused of stealing.
Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, president of Teamsters 1035, according to the union. He was Mr. Thornton’s representative at Tuesday’s disciplinary hearing, the union said.
Another victim was Doug Scruton, 56, who worked at the warehouse for nearly 30 years, said his wife, Mikal O’Brien. Anticipating his upcoming retirement, the couple recently moved to Middleton, N.H., where he loved to visit the White Mountains and beaches. He stayed with a friend in Connecticut during the week.
“It was part of our plan for him to be able to retire in the place that he loved, but he’s never going to be able to enjoy that now,” she said. “He was just the sweetest, gentlest, kind soul.”
“I was like: ‘Where’s Billy? Where’s Billy?’ and they said they hadn’t seen him. And then one of his co-workers told me … that he saw the shooter go to where Billy’s room is that he works in,” she said.
Mr. Ackerman, who enjoyed playing golf and rooting for the Boston Red Sox, worked for the company for about 20 years, she said.
Manchester police identified the other victims as Francis Fazio Jr., 57; Edwin Kennison, 49; Craig Pepin, 60; Louis Felder Jr., 50; and Victor James, 61.
Steve Hollander was treated at Hartford Hospital and released. Jerome Rosenstein, 77, was in serious condition there Wednesday.
It was the nation’s deadliest shooting since 13 people were killed at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. A military psychiatrist is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in that case.
In Connecticut, a state lottery worker in Newington gunned down four supervisors in 1998 before committing suicide, and six people were killed in 1974 in botched robbery at a bakery in New Britain. Two men were convicted in that shooting.
Hartford Distributors has had no complaints filed against it, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said.
The Hollander family is widely respected in Manchester, said state Rep. Ryan Barry, a lifelong resident. He said the family-owned Hartford Distributors sponsors local sports teams.
“Ten seconds before he started shooting, if you had asked me, ‘Does he look like he’s going to react in any way?’ I would have said, ‘No, he seems calm,” Steve Hollander said. “It makes no sense the people he killed. Why would somebody do such a thing? They were his co-workers. They never … harmed him in any way.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Singer in Manchester; Michelle R. Smith, Susan Haigh and Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.; John Christoffersen in Enfield, Conn.; Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H.; and Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.
By Brahma Chellaney
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