Man kills 8, self in Connecticut shooting rampage

August 5th, 2010 by Staff

MANCHESTER, Conn. – A driver caught stealing beer from the warehouse where he worked agreed to resign Tuesday and then as “cold as ice,” one of his victims said, went on a shooting rampage, killing eight people and injuring two before committing suicide.

Omar Thornton, 34, pulled out a handgun after a meeting in which he had been shown video evidence of the thefts and was offered the chance to quit or be fired, said company vice president Steve Hollander, whose family owns the distributorship.

“Then he went out on this rampage,” Hollander said. “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 just agreed to resign.

“And then he just unexplainably pulled out his gun and started blasting,” Hollander said.

Thornton, who was black, had complained of racial harassment and said he found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a restroom wall, the mother of his girlfriend said. Her daughter told her that Thornton’s supervisors told him they would talk to his co-workers.

Brett Hollander, a cousin of Steve Hollander, said: “I can assure you there has never been any racial discrimination at our company.” And Teamsters official Christopher Roos said Thornton had not filed a complaint of racism with the union or the government.

“It’s got nothing to do with race,” Roos said. “This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people.”

Thornton’s girlfriend was with him the night before the rampage and had no indication he was planning it, said her mother, Joanne Hannah.

About 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse about 10 miles east of Hartford during a shift change when Thornton opened fire around 7 a.m.

Steve Hollander said he believes Thornton had guns stashed in his lunch box. The executive said two people standing near him were shot in the head and killed, but he was only grazed.

Attack over quickly

The shooting was over in a matter of minutes, Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said. The victims were found all over the complex, and authorities didn’t know if Thornton fired randomly or targeted specific co-workers, he said.

After shooting his co-workers, Thornton called his mother, Hannah said.

“He wanted to say goodbye and that he loved everybody,” she said.

Thornton was alive when police got to the scene but killed himself before officers got to him, Montminy said.

Workers flooded out of the building as three teams of police raced into it, Montminy said.

“Some were hiding in the woods, and some were under cars,” he said.

State police found weapons in Thornton’s car, Montminy said, without providing details.

Hannah said her daughter, Kristi, had dated Thornton for eight years. Kristi Hannah did not provide comment.

“Everybody’s got a breaking point,” Joanne Hannah said.

Hannah described Thornton as an easygoing guy who liked to play sports and video games. She said he had a pistol permit and had planned to teach her daughter how to use a gun.

Police declined to release victims’ names.

Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, president of Teamsters 1035, according to the union. He had been Thornton’s representative at Tuesday’s disciplinary hearing, the union said.

Bill Ackerman, a 51-year-old warehouseman, also was killed, said his girlfriend, Stephanie Laurin. The Hartford Courant identified another victim as Victor James, 59.

The rampage was the nation’s deadliest since 13 people were fatally shot at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. Military psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan is charged in that case.

Background on gunman

Thornton listed Hoffman’s Gun Center & Indoor Range in Newington as among his interests on his Facebook page. A company official declined to comment.

Thornton filed for bankruptcy protection a decade ago. His Chapter 7 petition in 2000 listed $4,850 in assets, including a 1994 Chrysler Concorde, and more than $15,000 in liabilities – primarily debt on credit card and student loans. His debts were discharged in March 2001, and the case was closed the following month.

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said no complaints had been filed against Hartford Distributors.

The Hollander family is widely respected in Manchester, said state Rep. Ryan Barry.

“They treat their employees very well, and they’re part of the fabric of the town,” he said.

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