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Brocuglio said Thornton put her family up in a hotel after a fire at her house and was “like a second dad” to her children.

Omar was the best man I ever met in my life,” Brocuglio said.

Thornton ran into his own troubles a decade ago when he filed for bankruptcy protection. His debts were discharged in 2001 and the case was closed.

Around that time, Thornton was hired as a driver with Chemstation New England, a chemical company in South Windsor. But he was let go after 10 months, unable to master the mechanical skills involved handling the equipment, said Bruce LeFebvre, the owner.

“He was a real nice kid when he was with us,” LeFebvre said. “Certainly I would never have expected anything like this from him.”

LeFebvre said Thornton handled it well when he was let go.

Thornton was hired for a warehouse job at Hartford Distributors about two years ago and was later promoted to driver. Drivers can make up to $60,000 and receive excellent benefits, said John Hollis, legislative liaison for the Teamsters who represent employees at the company.

“He had this huge smile on his face” when he was hired, Hannah said.

Thornton seemed happy outside of work, too, playing basketball and video games and occasionally shooting his gun at a local range with a friend.

Thornton and his mother were especially excited when Barack Obama was elected the first African American president, Hannah said. He listed Obama and the gun range among his interests on his Facebook page.

But Hannah said he showed her cell phone photos of racist graffiti in the bathroom at the beer company and overheard a company official using a racial epithet in reference to him, but a union representative did not return his phone calls. Police said they recovered the phone and forensics experts would examine it.

“Nothing else bothered him except these comments he would make about them doing the racial things to him,” Hannah said.