MANCHESTER, Conn. (CBS 2/ 1010 WINS/AP) — Police said a driver at a beer warehouse was being escorted from the property after a disciplinary hearing Tuesday morning when he started shooting, killing eight people and wounding two before killing himself.
The gunfire erupted inside Hartford Distributors about 7 a.m., police said.
The driver, Omar Thornton, had worked at the distributor for a couple of years but had been called in for a hearing, said John Hollis of the Connecticut Teamsters, who was with company officials at the scene of the shooting. A union official said Thornton had been caught on videotape stealing beer.
Two victims were taken to Hartford Hospital, spokeswoman Michaela Donnelly said. One was in critical condition, and one was in fair condition. Families of workers gathered at the town high school to wait for information and comfort each other.
The shooter’s family said Thornton called to speak with his mother before taking his own life.
“He said I killed the five racists that was there,” Will Holliday –Thornton’s uncle — told reporters including CBS 2’s Tony Aiello. Holliday said Thornton anticipated police would arrive at the scene shortly and said “I’m gonna take care of myself.”
About 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse during a shift change when the gunman opened fire, said Brett Hollander, whose family owns Hartford Distributors. Adding to the chaos was a fire at the warehouse, about 10 miles 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 recover.
Two union reps were among the dead. Teamsters local president Bryan Cirigliano lived in Newington. His grieving daughter and wife told CBS 2’s Lou Young on Tuesday night they cannot begin to express their loss, certainly not in public.
And at the Windsor home of shop steward Victor James, neighbors who called him “the Bud man” looked at his empty place in disbelief. James has two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
“None of us think we’re going walk out the door and die, not at our jobs. It’s just … no.” neighbor Frank Hunt said.
“He told me last week he would be officially retired in August, but all done in April and he had 31 years over there,” neighbor Harvey Leblanc added.
In South Windsor, another old timer, Craig Pepin, was mourned by his family. He leaves a wife and four grown kids. His brother said it’s easy to describe him.
“Just loving, putting everyone else first, joyful. He loved life,” Ron Pepin said.
For too many it is beyond belief, especially for the family of the killer. They remember his complaints about racism and know that nothing can excuse what happened in Manchester on Tuesday.
“There are no winners. Nine families are grieving tonight. So nobody wins, no matter what the situation is. Racism, discrimination whatever. They’re hurting, we’re hurting. Nobody wins,” Holliday said.
Holliday said he knew his nephew had complained about mistreatment at work, but had no idea he had been pushed to the point of violence.
Aiello reports that family members heard Thornton claim he had been subjected to the “n” word at work and that someone left a noose where he would find it.
The family said Thornton was particularly sensitive to racism — both overt and perceived. He dated a number of white women, including Jessica Brocuglia, who described him as a kind-hearted man.
“He’s a big guy but a big bear,” Brocuglia told CBS 2.
“He’s never put his hands on me, ever. I actually punched him, and he never ever once raised his hand to me, Brocuglia said. “It’s just sad to hear this … something snapped inside his head.”
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.
Other members of the gunman’s family also expressed sorrow for Tuesday’s shootings.
“I’m very disturbed and I’m very very sorry about the families who are also grieving today for something I truly believe could have been avoided,” Thornton’s cousin Darlene Hayles said.
Hayles also told 1010 WINS reporter Al Jones that her cousin was frustrated that his complaints were not taken seriously.
“They saw the signs and saw what was going on and they ignored it,” Hayles said. “Now all these families are grieving.”
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.
It was the worst workplace shooting in Connecticut since 1998, when a state lottery worker gunned down four supervisors before committing suicide.
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