The warehouse driver who fatally shot eight co-workers at a beer distributorship before killing himself apparently targeted managers who had hired a private detective to tail him and forced him to resign because he stole beer from work, police said Wednesday. The Teamster have set up a fund to help families of the victims.
Omar Thornton carried two 9 mm handguns to Hartford Distributors inside his lunch box Tuesday and left a rifle in his car. After a disciplinary hearing where he was shown video of himself stealing and then resigned, he asked for a drink of water and went to a kitchenette where his lunch box was, Manchester police Lt. Christopher Davis said Wednesday.
He went to the kitchen, took out his guns, walked out into the hall and began shooting “as soon as he got into the hallway,” Davis said. All the weapons were registered, he said.
The first people shot were managers or executives involved in Thornton’s firing, Davis said. He said it’s not clear whether everyone was targeted, or whether some were shot randomly. Two men also were wounded.
Thornton left the office area and went into a large section of the warehouse section where more victims were found, Davis said. He chased one or more of them outside into a parking lot, had to shoot a locked glass door to get back in the building and continued shooting.
One man who was fatally shot tried to flee Thornton on a forklift, which crashed into an electrical conduit and started a small fire, Davis said.
Thornton also passed by at least two people and did not shoot them, Davis said, including one woman in a wheelchair.
Finally, Thornton called his mother to say goodbye, said his uncle, Wilbert Holliday. Thornton, who is black, had complained of racial harassment for months to family and friends. He indicated he did target people — but because they had harassed him.
“I shot the racists that was bothering me,” he told his mother.
Police found Thornton dead in an office.
The company had hired a private investigator to follow Thornton outside of work after becoming suspicious that he was stealing alcohol, Davis said. The amount of alcohol Thornton allegedly took wasn’t clear.
Holliday said his nephew told family he was the only black employee at the company. None of the victims were black, Davis said. Friends and family of those who died said they couldn’t imagine their loved ones doing what Thornton said, and the company and union said Thornton never reported any harassment.
Among the people shot were several in positions of responsibility at Hartford Distributors: Steve Hollander, 50, a member of the family that owns the company, and who met with Thornton at the disciplinary hearing. Hollander was shot twice but survived.
The dead also included Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, president of Teamsters 1035, who had been Thornton’s representative at the hearing, and Louis Felder, who was operations director, according to The Stamford Advocate.
Other victims were Doug Scruton, 56; Bill Ackerman, 51; Francis Fazio Jr., 57; Edwin Kennison, 49; Craig Pepin, 60; and Victor James, 60.
Jerome Rosenstein, 77, was wounded and in serious condition Wednesday at Hartford Hospital.
Kristi Hannah, 26, Thornton’s girlfriend of eight years, said he had told her months ago that he was racially harassed, and he showed her photos he took with his cell phone of a drawing on a bathroom wall of a stick figure with a noose around the neck and a racial slur and another with his name on it and that the writer hated black people.
One day, she said, he called her from a bathroom stall, then held up his phone and she could hear a company official, apparently unaware Thornton was in a stall, tell someone else that the company was going to “get rid of this dumb n—–.”
Brett Hollander, who also works at Hartford Distributors, denied any charges of racism.
“I can assure you there has never been any racial discrimination at our company,” he said.
Said Hannah: “He was being racially profiled and no one would listen to him.”
Hannah said Thornton gave her a long hug and kiss goodbye on the morning of the shooting. He looked dazed and confused, so she asked him whether something was wrong, but he said no.
“I think he did it because of the racial stuff,” she said, adding that Thornton “said he was very hurt.”
One driver at the company who was killed, Kennison, had mentioned Thornton before but never in a derogatory way, said Mark McCorrison, a close friend. Kennison was not the type to make bigoted remarks, he said.
“I can tell you right now: Eddie is not that person,” McCorrison said.
A neighbor of Pepin, who was also a driver, said he knew him for 25 years and never heard Pepin become angry, let alone show any hint of racism or bigotry.
“Craig, who was active as a coach in town with all kids — all races of kids — for years, he didn’t care, he just worked with the kids,” Ted Jenny said. “There was no way Craig Pepin was racist.”
Steve Hollander told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the people Thornton targeted appeared to be “absolutely random.”
“He killed so many good people today for absolutely no reason at all. People who’ve never said an unkind word to him,” he said. “He was just shooting at anyone that was near him and just cruelty beyond cruelty.”
Hartford Distributors never had any complaints filed against it, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said.
The company was meeting privately with employees on Wednesday, Brett Hollander said. He said other beer distributors had offered to make deliveries for Hartford Distributors while the warehouse is shut down.
A funeral for Felder, who is Orthodox Jewish, was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Stamford.
A Mass to remember all the victims was planned for Wednesday evening at St. Margaret Mary Church in South Windsor.
Seven of the members were Teamsters and the union has set up a fund to help the families. Click here for more information.
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