Police: Gunman at beer warehouse targeted managers

Published August 4, 2010

MANCHESTER, Conn. – The warehouse driver who fatally shot eight co-workers and himself at a beer distributorship 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.

Omar Thornton's girlfriend, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that he had complained of racial harassment and had shared evidence of it with her: photos of racist bathroom graffiti and a surreptitiously monitored conversation allegedly involving company managers.

Thornton carried two 9 mm handguns to Hartford Distributors inside his lunch box Tuesday and left a shotgun in his car, police said. At a disciplinary hearing, he watched video that showed him stealing beer and then resigned after being asked whether he wanted to quit or be fired.

He then asked for a drink of water and went to a kitchenette where his lunch box was, Manchester police Lt. Christopher Davis said Wednesday. He took out his guns, walked out into the hall and began shooting immediately, Davis said. All the weapons were registered, he said.

The first people shot were managers or executives involved in Thornton's firing, Davis said. It's not clear whether every victim was targeted or whether some were shot randomly, Davis said.

Thornton left the office area and went into a large section of the warehouse where more victims were found, Davis said. He chased one or more of them outside into a parking lot, shot a locked glass door to get back into the building and continued shooting.

One man who was fatally shot tried to evade 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. In all, Thornton killed eight people and wounded two others.

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 and 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.

Davis revealed Wednesday that the company had hired a private investigator to follow Thornton outside of work for a few weeks after becoming suspicious that he was stealing. The amount of beer Thornton took wasn't clear.

Holliday said his nephew told his family that 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, was a member of the family that owns the company and met with Thornton at the disciplinary hearing. Hollander was shot twice but survived.

The dead also included Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington. He was the president of Teamsters 1035 and had been Thornton's representative at the hearing. Another slain worker, Louis Felder, 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. One was a drawing on a bathroom wall of a stick figure with a noose around the neck and a racial slur, she told the AP. Another scrawl said the writer hated black people and had Thornton's name on it, she said.

One day, Hannah said, he called her from a bathroom stall and held up his phone. She said 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, has 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.

Pepin, also a driver, was never angry, let alone someone who showed any hint of racism or bigotry, said a neighbor who knew him for 25 years.

"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 AP 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.

___

Christoffersen reported from Enfield, Conn. Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo in Hartford, Conn.; Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H.; and Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.

Written by STEPHEN SINGER and JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press Writer

COMMENTS

Latest in news