Manchester, Conn - A warehouse driver who was caught on videotape stealing beer from the distributorship where he worked went on a shooting rampage there Tuesday, killing eight people before committing suicide, authorities said. At least two people were wounded, one critically, Manchester police said. They were expected to survive, reports The Daily Mail.
The gunman, identified by a company executive as Omar Thornton, had complained of racial harassment and said he found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a bathroom wall, the mother of his girlfriend said. Her daughter told her that Thornton's supervisors had not responded to his complaints, but a union official said Thornton had not filed a complaint of racism to the union or any government agency.
Thornton had been caught on videotape stealing beer from Hartford Distributors and was supposed to meet with company officials when the shootings began, Teamsters official Christopher Roos said.
"It's got nothing to do with race," Roos said. "This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people." James Battaglio, a spokesman for the families who own the distributorship, said he had no immediate information about the allegations of racial harassment. Thornton's girlfriend had been with him the night before the rampage and had no indication he was planning it, said her mother, Joanne Hannah.
On Tuesday morning, about 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse about 10 miles east of Hartford during a shift change when the gunman opened fire around 7 a.m., said Brett Hollander, whose family owns the distributorship. Adding to the chaos was a fire at the warehouse that was put out. Police did not know whether the fire was related to the shootings. After shooting his co-workers, Thornton called his mother, Hannah said. "He wanted to say goodbye and he loved everybody," said Hannah, whose daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for the past eight years.
A police sharpshooter had approval to fire on Thornton when he killed himself, an official with knowledge of the scene told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it. "Everybody's got a breaking point," Joanne Hannah said. Kristi Hannah did not return calls for comment. Hollander's cousin, who's a vice president at the company, 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," Hollander said. Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, president of Teamsters 1035, according to the union secretary. The Hartford Courant identified another victim as Victor James, 59, of Windsor. The rampage was the nation's deadliest 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.
And in Connecticut, a state lottery worker gunned down four supervisors in 1998 before committing suicide, and six people were killed in 1974 in botched robbery at a bakery in New Britain. Two men were convicted of that crime. On Tuesday, a few dozen relatives and friends of the victims gathered a few miles away at Manchester High School. Outside, people talked, hugged and cried. Others talked on cell phones.
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. The Hollander family is widely respected in Manchester, said state Rep. Ryan Barry, a lifelong resident. He said the family-owned Hartford Distributors sponsors local sports teams and the family is civic-minded. "Everybody knows the Hollanders as good, generous, upstanding people," Barry said. "They're embedded in the community. Everyone knows Hartford Distributors. They treat their employees very well and they're part of the fabric of the town."
In a statement, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered condolences to the victims' families and co-workers. "We are all left asking the same questions: How could someone do this? Why did they do this?" she said.