A warehouse driver who was asked to resign his job at a beer distributor went on a shooting rampage Tuesday morning that left nine people dead, including himself, and others wounded, company and government officials said.
The number of dead was confirmed by a Connecticut government official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Authorities were notifying victims’ relatives before confirming the number of deaths, state police Lt. J. Paul Vance said.
The driver, Omar Thornton, had worked at the distributor for a couple of years and been called in for a disciplinary hearing, said John Hollis of the Connecticut Teamsters labor union, who was with company officials at the scene of the shooting.
Official sources told WFSB that Thornton was facing disciplinary action in connection with a theft at the business,reports CBS affiliate WFSB in Hartford. The owner of the company was preparing to let Thornton go when witnesses said “all hell broke loose” Tuesday morning.
When police found him, he had been shot, Manchester police Lt. Joe San Antonio said.
Union representatives said among the dead were Brian Cirigliano, the shop steward for the union. Workers said Cirigliano would have been the one to escort Thornton into the building for Tuesday’s disciplinary hearing.
Also killed was truck driver Victor James, who had 30 years on the job, union officials said. Gloria Wilson, James’ mother, said he would have turned 60 years old this month. She said he loved his job and was planning on retiring soon. Wilson said James had two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
Wilson said before that before James left for work on Tuesday, he kissed her goodbye.
At least one person died at Hartford Hospital, spokeswoman Michaela Donnelly said. Another victim taken there was in critical condition, and one was in fair condition, she said.
About 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse during a shift change when the gunman opened fire around 7 a.m., said Brett Hollander, whose family owns Hartford Distributors. Adding to the chaos was a fire at the warehouse, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Hartford, that was put out. Police did not know whether the fire was related to the shootings.
Among the victims was Hollander’s cousin, a vice president at the company who was shot in the arm and the face. Hollander said he thought his cousin would be OK.
“There was a guy that was supposed to, was asked to resign, to come in to resign and chose not to and shot my cousin and my co-workers,” Brett Hollander told the AP.
Receptionist Marissa Busiere said she heard another coworker screaming after shots rang out inside the business.
“‘He’s shooting! He’s shooting! Call 911.’ And everyone started running out of the building,” Busiere said.
State Firearms Bureau records show that an Omar Thornton purchased two firearms in January. Hartford Distributors employees said that Thornton had been on the job for about two to three years.
Mark Quattropani, a long-time employee at the business said he was startled to learn that the business was the center of a SWAT team operation.
“I worked there for 29 years, lots of friends there,” Quattropani said. Quattropani said he went to the business after the shooting because his son now has a summer job there.
Joanne Hannah told the Hartford Courant her daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for eight years. Thornton, who is black, had complained about being racially harassed at work, Hannah said. Thornton complained to his superiors, who did nothing about it, she said her daughter told her.
Kristi Hannah did not immediately return a call for comment.
Families of workers gathered at the town high school to wait for information and comfort each other.
Hollander, whose family owns the distributor, said he did not know the shooter well.
Police officers from numerous agencies and police and fire vehicles surrounded the warehouse, on a tree-lined road in an industrial park just west of a shopping mall. A SWAT team with a police dog was walking around the property a couple of hours after the 7 a.m. shooting.
Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell released a statement saying, “My heart and prayers go out to the employees and families of the victims. In the wake of this tragedy, we are all left asking the same questions: How could someone do this? Why did they do this? It was a senseless act of violence that has left us all shaken and reminds us just how precious and fragile life truly is.”
The rampage was the deadliest in the U.S. since 13 people were fatally shot at Fort Hood, Texas, last November. A military psychiatrist is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in that case.
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