Anthony Napolitano, the son-in-law of victim Victor James, 60, of Windsor, said Mr. James treated everyone equally, regardless of race or religion.
Truck driver David Zylberman, a 34-year employee of the company, said that the racism claims “pissed me off because they were good people.”
Thornton’s ex-girlfriend, Jessica Anne Brocuglio, said he had a history of racial problems with co-workers at other jobs and believed he was denied pay raises because of his race.
She said he told her: “I’m sick of having to quit jobs and get another job because they can’t accept me.”
Thornton’s girlfriend of the past eight years, Kristi Hannah, said he showed her cell phone photos of racist graffiti in the bathroom at the beer distribution company and overheard managers using a racial epithet in reference to him. Police said they recovered the phone and forensics experts would examine it.
The union’s lawyer, Gregg Adler, said the claims of racial mistreatment can be difficult to disprove, but if they had been raised by any employee the union would have acted immediately.
“There’s not even a connection between the violence and the accusations as far as we can tell,” Mr. Adler said. “The only people who were targeted were the people who happened to be in his meeting. And then he went to the warehouse, he just killed people who happened to be near the door.”
“When they find me that’s when everything is going to be over,” he said, assuring the operator he was not going to kill anyone else.
He then said he saw a SWAT team and hastened to get off the phone.
“Tell my people I love them and I gotta go now,” he said.
Police found him dead with a gunshot wound to his head.
Associated Press writer John Christoffersen in New Haven contributed to this report.