Manchester, CT – 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.
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.
More from the Courant:
Steve Hollander, a member of the family that founded and owns the company, is one of the wounded, a police source said. He was shot in the neck, the source said.
Another shooting victim was identified as Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, by a man at Hartford Hospital who said he was Cirigliano’s brother. Bryan Cirigliano is the president of the Teamsters Local 1035 that represents drivers at Hartford Distributors.
Another victim was identified as Victor James, who died at Hartford Hospital, officials said…
… Hartford Distributors was founded by Jules Hollander, the father of the current president, Ross Hollander, and grandfather of Brett, the marketing chief, and Steve, who was reported to have been shot. The company was located on Tolland Street in East Hartford for many years before moving to Manchester about 15 years ago, said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson.
Last year, the company bought a rival, Franklin Distributors of South Windsor.
Larson, of East Hartford, who is close to the Hollanders and some of the union officials, visited the company in mid-morning after the shootings.
“The Hollander family is probably one of the most venerated families in the Hartford area in the Jewish community,” Larson said. “There isn’t a charity that they haven’t contributed.”