- Associated Press - Friday, August 6, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For two days, employees at a beer distribution company puzzled over why an easy-going co-worker with no history of violence would go on a rampage, fatally shooting eight men and wounding two others before killing himself.

Then, the shooter himself told them why.

In a chilling, 4-minute 911 call, Omar Thornton told a police dispatcher how he sought to avenge racial discrimination through the shootings Tuesday at Hartford Distributors Inc. in Manchester.

“You probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up,” Thornton said in a recording released Thursday. “This place is a racist place. They’re treating me bad over here. And treat all other black employees bad over here, too. So I took it to my own hands and handled the problem. I wish I could have got more of the people.”

Thornton, 34, went on his killing spree moments after he was forced to resign when confronted with video evidence that he had been stealing and reselling beer.

The 911 call confirmed suggestions from his relatives and girlfriend that he was angered by what he believed was racist treatment in the workplace.

Hartford Distributors president Ross Hollander said there was no record to support claims of “racial insensitivity” made through the company’s anti-harassment policy, the union grievance process or state and federal agencies.

“Nonetheless, these ugly allegations have been raised and the company will cooperate with any investigation,” Mr. Hollander said.

The union said 14 of 69 dock workers, or 20 percent, were racial minorities — four black, nine Hispanic, one Asian.

The idea that Thornton’s motive may not have been retaliation for losing his job has not sat well with many of the people who knew the victims and have firsthand knowledge of the environment inside the enormous distribution center.

“Everybody just thinks this race card is such a wrong thing,” said Michael Cirigliano, whose slain brother, Bryan, was Thornton’s union representative at the disciplinary meeting and the president of the local union.

Michael Cirigliano also spent three decades working at the warehouse before he retired two years ago.

“The Hispanics and the blacks were telling me they’ve never seen anything they’re accusing the company of in the bathrooms or anywhere else at HDI,” he said. “It’s never been separated white, black, Asian. It’s never been like that.”

He said the company had increased its hiring of minorities in recent years.

“They’ve been bringing in more and more minority people to fill the positions,” Mr. Cirigliano said. “You could almost go as far as that’s reverse discrimination. They were hiring the groups to balance the workplace, because that’s what we are in America, there’s a balance.”

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