Gunman Opens Fire at Hartford Beer Distributorship, Kills 8 Before Shooting Himself

Gunman opened fire at disciplinary hearing; complained of racial harrassment.

August 3, 2010, 11:24 AM

Aug. 3, 2010 — -- A gunman opened fire early Tuesday morning during a shift change at Hartford Distributors, a beer distributorship near Hartford, Conn., and ABC News has been told that nine people, including the gunman, have died.

The suspect was identified as Omar S. Thornton, 34, according to John Hollis of the Connecticut Teamsters Union, of which Thornton was a member.

Thornton opened fire before turning his gun on himself, police said. A spokesman said police never fired their own guns.

Thornton was being escorted out of the office building when he opened fire, Manchester, Conn., Police Chief Marc Montminy told reporters.

"We believe he was offered an opportunity to quit or be terminated," Montminy said.

Montminy declined to say what led to Thornton's termination. but sources said that he was caught on video stealing beer from the distributor.

"Thornton had come in for a disciplinary hearing with a union representative and either before or after the meeting he began shooting indiscriminately," said Hollis of the Teamsters Union.

Joanne Hannah, who said she was the mother of Thornton's girlfriend, told ABC News that Thornton had called his mother this morning, apologizing for what he had done and saying goodbye.

Thornton had complained for a long time about racial harassment, and claimed he had pictures in his cell phone of the N-word and a hangman's noose scrawled on a bathroom wall at Hartford Distributors, Hannah said.

She described Thornton as a hard-working, "mellow" man. However, she said, she knew he had pistol permits and another relative said he would occasionally "come up" with a case of beer, presumably taken from the distributorship.

Thornton had "made no complaint of racism to us or to any federal or state agency," a union official told The Associated Press.

"It's got nothing to do with race," said Teamsters official Christopher Roos, according to The Associated Press. "This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people."

Thornton filed for bankruptcy in 2000, ABC News confirmed.

Steve Hollander, a vice president at the beer distributorship, was shot in the neck during the attack, but treated at a hospital and released, according to a statement by a spokesman for the Hollander family, which founded the distributorship.

"It's a very, very tight-knit family," said the statement by the spokesman, James Battiglio. "They've always had this reputation of having a wonderful rapport with their employees. In their mind, they lost a large number of family members today.

"Members of the Hollander and Stack families are understandably devastated by a tragic and senseless act," Battiglio said, referring to the families that co-own the plant. "Right now their focus is on the families of the victims and making sure that the families are given accurate information."

Another shooting survivor 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.

A representative of Hartford Hospital, where three of the shooting victims were treated, confirmed to ABC News that one of the victims had died, while the two others were in critical and fair condition but were expected to survive.

The victim who died at the hospital has been identified as 59-year-old Victor James.

James' mother, Gloria Wilson, told the Hartford Courant that her son had been looking forward to retirement, when he would be able to spend more time with his two daughters and four grandchildren.

"There wasn't a better family man," Wilson said.

Another victim killed in the shooting was Craig Pepin, 60, according to friends.

A driver at Hartford Distributors who had three sons and a daughter, Pepin was a soccer coach for a travel team with the South Windsor Soccer Club. He recently played on a softball team with the South Windsor recreation department. His team won its game Monday night, friends said.

Connecticut Shooting: Gunman Opens Fire at Beer Distributorship

Hartford Distributors is one of the state's largest beer distribution companies, headquartered in the town of Manchester, Conn.

Authorities rushed to Hartford Distributors just after 7:30 a.m., after someone called 911 saying, "Someone has been shot and there is a victim down," Manchester Police Lt. Joe San Antonio told reporters.

"He was the newest guy of about 65 drivers," Hollis said of Thornton.

According to Hollis, Thornton opened fire at what would have been one of the busiest times of the day at the distributorship.

"It couldn't have been a worse time of day," said Hollis. "The day shift was coming in and the office staff was all there. It was the time of day where the most employees would be in the building."

Hollis estimated that 65 employees would have been at the scene at the time of the shooting.

Thornton was listed as living in East Hartford, Conn.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell called the shooting "a senseless act of violence that has left us all shaken and reminds us just how precious and fragile life truly is."

"In the coming days, we will learn more about what happened. We will likely never fully understand why it happened," said Rell in a prepared statement. "But an inexplicable -- and indescribable -- catastrophe such as this is a cruelly clear reminder that we must take time in our daily lives to appreciate how what we have."

WABC-TV and WTNH-TV contributed reporting to this story.

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