Video: What led to the Conn. workplace rampage?

  1. Transcript of: What led to the Conn. workplace rampage?

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: This morning, shocking new details are emerging about what caused a Connecticut man to go on a shooting rampage at work killing eight co-workers before turning the gun on himself. NBC 's Peter Alexander is in Manchester , Connecticut , with the latest. Peter , good morning.

    PETER ALEXANDER reporting: Meredith , good morning to you. This is an awful one, the staggering death toll this morning stands at nine including the shooter with one person still hospitalized. And this morning we're learning new details about the final moments before that shooting where company officials say they called Omar Thornton into an office and showed him a video that they say showed him stealing from a company truck. Then, just moments later, he opened fire for what was the worst workplace mass murder in this state's history. This small Connecticut community is in mourning, still stunned by its devastating loss.

    Ms. SUSAN HOLLANDER (Wife of Hartford Distributors Executive): It's just shocking. It's still shocking. It's just -- it's unbelievable.

    ALEXANDER: The shooting began shortly after 7:00 Tuesday morning here at Hartford Distributors , a family-owned beer and wine wholesaler. The company 's CEO tells NBC News 34-year-old Oman Thornton was called into a room for disciplinary hearing with managers and calmly watched video that even union officials say showed him stealing from a company truck.

    Chief MARK MONTMINY (Manchester, Connecticut Police Department): At the conclusion of that interview, we're told he was given an option to either resign or be terminated.

    ALEXANDER: The CEO says Thornton signed a resignation paper and was then escorted from the room, asking for a drink of water before police say he pulled out a hand gun and calmly opened fire. As cold as ice, said one victim.

    Mr. JOHN HOLLIS (Teamsters Spokesman): It couldn't have happened at a worst time of day because you got the third shift going off, the first shift coming on, the office staff there, the sales staff there.

    ALEXANDER: Thornton , hired just two years ago, saved the last shot for himself.

    Mr. HENRY HOLLIDAY (Shooter's Uncle): There's no winners here. You got nine families that are grieving.

    ALEXANDER: Joanne Hannah claims her daughter dated Thornton for eight years and says he called his mother during Tuesday's rampage.

    Ms. JOANNE HANNAH: He called her and told his mother he shot five people and was basically saying, `I love everybody , tell everybody I love them and goodbye.'

    ALEXANDER: Hannah says Thornton told her daughter he'd complained to his supervisors about being racially harassed at work. The company 's CEO adamantly denied those allegations and the union says there's no record of any complaints from Thornton .

    Ms. HANNAH: My daughter's just as shocked as everybody right now. She did not see anything like this. She knew he had a breaking point. He was getting sick of it.

    Ms. KATHY GEORGE (Employee): Well, I'm trying not to cry. It's just shocking, especially Omar . I mean, he just wouldn't -- I didn't know there was a problem.

    ALEXANDER: Among the victims, Victor James , a grandfather of four who would have turned 60 this month and was planning to retire after 30 years as a driver.

    Mr. JOE WILLIAMS (Friend of Victim): It was a loss of a dear friend of 40 years and I was shocked, anger. A good family man, a good friend, a good husband and a good father.

    ALEXANDER: And overnight we heard from another driver at the company who told NBC News "We are not racist. We are a bunch of hard-working guys that work for a good company ." Meredith , he said, "none of us deserved this."

Image: People are seen being evacuated from Hartford Distributors, Inc.
Jessica Hill  /  Journal Inquirer via AP
People are seen being evacuated from Hartford Distributors, Inc., in Manchester, Conn., Tuesday.
updated 8/4/2010 8:16:11 AM ET 2010-08-04T12:16:11

A driver caught stealing beer from the warehouse where he worked agreed to resign his job Tuesday and then as "cold as ice," one of his victims said, went on a shooting rampage, killing eight people and injuring two before committing suicide.

Omar Thornton, 34, pulled out a handgun after a meeting in which he was shown video evidence of the thefts and was offered the chance to quit or be fired.

"Then he went out on this rampage," company vice president Steve Hollander told The Associated Press. "He was cool and calm. He didn't yell. He was cold as ice. He didn't protest when we were meeting with him to show him the video of him stealing. He didn't contest it. He didn't complain. He didn't argue. He didn't admit or deny anything. He just agreed to resign. And then he just unexplainably pulled out his gun and started blasting."

Hollander said he thinks Thornton had guns stashed in his lunch box. The executive said two people standing right near him were shot in the head and killed, but he was only grazed in the jaw and the arm.

"He shot at me twice and hit me a couple times. By just the grace of God, I don't know how he missed me," he said.

About 50 to 70 people were in the Hartford Distributors warehouse about 10 miles east of Hartford during a shift change when the gunman opened fire around 7 a.m., said Brett Hollander, Steve Hollander's cousin and a member of the family that owns the distributorship.

"I was on the phone with 911 and then I saw him running outside of my office window, shooting his gun, carrying his lunch box, which must have had his weapons in it," Steve Hollander said. "It doesn't seem real to me now, it seems like I'm watching a movie."

The shooting was over in a matter of minutes. The victims were found all over the complex, and authorities said they didn't know if Thornton fired randomly or targeted specific co-workers.

After shooting his co-workers, Thornton called his mother, said Joanne Hannah, the mother of Thornton's girlfriend.

"He wanted to say goodbye and that he loved everybody," she said.

Thornton was alive when police got to the scene but killed himself before officers got to him, Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said. 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.

Workers had flooded out of the building as three teams of police officers raced into it, Montminy told the town's board of directors Tuesday evening.

"Some were hiding in the woods and some were hiding under cars," he said.

State police found weapons in the suspect's car, Montminy said, without providing details.

Steve Hollander said Thornton killed "many good people today for absolutely no reason at all, people who've never said an unkind word to him. ... He was just shooting at anyone that was near him and just cruelty beyond cruelty."

Image: Locator map of shooting in Connecticut

Hannah said her daughter, Kristi, had dated Thornton for the past eight years. Kristi Hannah did not return calls for comment.

"Everybody's got a breaking point," Joanne Hannah said.

"This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people," Teamsters official Christopher Roos said.

Thornton was not a problem employee and had not had any previous disciplinary issues, said Gregg Adler, a lawyer for the Teamsters Local 1035. He said he was not aware of how much beer Thornton was alleged to have stolen.

Kristi Hannah had been with him Monday night and had no indication he was planning anything violent, her mother said.

Joanne Hannah described Thornton as an easygoing guy who liked to play sports and video games. She said he had a pistol permit and had planned to teach her daughter how to use a gun.

Police declined to release the names of those killed.

Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, president of Teamsters 1035, according to the union. He had been Thornton's representative at Tuesday's disciplinary hearing, the union said.

Another victim was warehouse worker Doug Scruton, 56, who had worked there for nearly 30 years, said his wife, Mikal O'Brien. Anticipating his upcoming retirement, the couple had recently moved to a retirement home in Middleton, N.H., where he loved to visit the White Mountains and beaches. He stayed with a friend in Connecticut during the week.

"It was part of our plan for him to be able to retire in the place that he loved. But he's never going to be able to enjoy that now," she said. "He was just the sweetest, gentlest, kind soul, and I can't believe he's gone."

Bill Ackerman, a 51-year-old warehouseman, also was killed, said his girlfriend, Stephanie Laurin.

"I was like, 'Where's Billy, where's Billy?' and they said they hadn't seen him. And then one of his co-workers told me ... that he saw the shooter go to where Billy's room is that he works in," she said. "I was just praying to God that he was OK."

Ackerman, who enjoyed playing golf and rooting for the Boston Red Sox, had worked for the company for about 20 years, she said.

The Hartford Courant identified another victim as Victor James, 59, of Windsor.

Steve Hollander was treated at Hartford Hospital and released. Another person was being treated there, but the hospital would not comment on the patient's condition.

It was the nation's deadliest shooting since 13 people were killed at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. A military psychiatrist is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in that case.

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. Police and fire vehicles surrounded the warehouse, on a tree-lined road in an industrial park just west of a shopping mall.

A fire broke out shortly after the shooting, but police didn't think it was set.

Thornton listed Hoffman's Gun Center & Indoor Range in Newington as one of his interests on his Facebook page. A company official declined to comment.

Thornton filed for bankruptcy protection a decade ago. His petition in 2000 listed $4,850 in assets, including a 1994 Chrysler Concorde, and more than $15,000 in liabilities — primarily debt on credit card and student loan payments. His debts were discharged in March 2001 and the case was closed the following month.

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said Hartford Distributors has never had any complaints filed against it.

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.

"Ten seconds before he started shooting, if you had asked me, does he look like he's going to react in any way? I would have said no, he seems calm," Steve Hollander said. "It makes no sense the people he killed. Why would somebody do such a thing? They were his co-workers, they never ... harmed him in any way."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Manchester Shootings

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  1. People embrace while attending a memorial service for the shooting victims at a beer distribution company in Manchester, Conn., at St. Margaret Mary Church in South Windsor, Conn., on Wednesday, Aug. 4. (Jim Michaud / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hundreds turned out for a memorial service for the shooting victims at St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church in South Windsor, Conn., on Aug. 4. (Mark Mirko / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The casket containing Louis Felder is carefully wheeled away from the Congregation Agudath Sholom after the funeral in Stamford, Conn., on Aug. 4. Felder was one of eight people killed Tuesday when Omar Thornton opened fire after a disciplinary hearing at a beverage distributorship where he worked. (Craig Ruttle / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mourners embrace at a memorial service for victims of Tuesday's shooting, held at St. Margaret Church in South Windsor, Conn., on Aug. 4. (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Employees and friends gather outside of Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Conn., on Aug. 4. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Kristi Hannah, right, girlfriend of Omar S. Thornton, sits in her mother Joanne Hannah's home, left, in Enfield, Conn., on Aug. 4. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A priest kneels in prayer with three women outside Manchester High School, a gathering point for the families, co-workers and friends of shooting victims in Manchester, Conn., on Tuesday, Aug. 3. A warehouse driver who was asked to resign his job at Hartford Distributors, a family-owned beer distributor, refused and then opened fire, officials said. He killed at least eight people before fatally shooting himself. (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Employees of Hartford Distributors hug at a police staging area where employees were brought after the workplace shooting on Tuesday. (Jim Michaud / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People are evacuated from Hartford Distributors. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Workers and relatives from Hartford Distributors gather at Manchester High School. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Police respond to the shootings at Hartford Distributors. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A man and woman walk away from Manchester High School, a gathering point for the families, co-workers and friends of shooting victims. (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Some deadly mass-shootings in the U.S.

A recap of some of the worst multi-fatality homicides in the United States, 1966-2010

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