MANCHESTER, Connecticut — Omar Thornton sat calmly in a meeting with union representative and his supervisors as they showed a video of him stealing beer from the distributor where he worked.
Busted, he didn't put up a fight, company officials said. He quietly signed a letter of resignation and was headed for the door when he pulled out a gun and started firing — "cold as ice," as one survivor described it.
In the end, Thornton killed eight people, injured two, then turned the gun on himself in a rampage Tuesday at Hartford Distributors that union and company officials said they would not have anticipated from someone with no history of complaints or disciplinary problems.
Yet relatives say Thornton, 34, finally cracked after suffering racial harassment in a company where he said he was singled out for being black in a predominantly white work force.
"Everybody's got a breaking point," said Joanne Hannah, the mother of Thornton's longtime girlfriend.
After shooting his co-workers, Thornton hid as police moved in. He called his mother, who tried for 10 minutes to talk him out of killing himself, his uncle Will Holliday told reporters.
"He said, 'I killed the five racists that was there that was bothering me,'" Holliday said. "He said, 'The cops are going to come in so I am going to take care of myself.'"
Authorities said they found him dead.
Thornton had said he found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a bathroom wall, said Hannah, of Enfield, whose daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for the past eight years. Her daughter told her that Thornton's supervisors said they would talk to his co-workers.
Brett Hollander, whose family owns the distributor, denied any racial bias. And a union official said Thornton had not filed a complaint of racism with the union or any government agency.
"I can assure you there has never been any racial discrimination at our company," Hollander said.
Teamsters official Christopher Roos said, "This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people."
'He was cold as ice'
Company vice president Steve Hollander told The Associated Press he was stunned by Thornton's rampage after a meeting in which he calmly agreed to resign instead of being fired:
"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."
Steve Hollander said he thinks Thornton had guns stashed in his lunch box. The executive said two people standing near him were fatally shot in the head, but he was only grazed in the jaw and the arm.
"He shot at me twice and hit me a couple times," he said. "By just the grace of God, I don't know how he missed (killing) me."
Employees who were at the warehouse during the time of the shootings told The Hartford Courant that Thornton's selection of victims appeared to be indiscriminate.
"He ran right by me with the gun," one employee told the local newspaper. "I don't know why he didn't shoot me, too. People were pleading with him to put the gun down and to stop, but he was in his own world at that point."
Thornton did, however, decide to let a woman in a wheelchair who was pleading for her life live, employees told the newspaper.
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, said Brett Hollander, Steve Hollander's cousin.
"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."
The shooting was over in minutes. The victims were found all over the complex, and authorities said they didn't know whether Thornton fired randomly or targeted people.
Workers flooded out of the building as police officers raced into it, Manchester police Chief Marc 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.
Not a problem employee
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 accused of stealing.
“He was a quiet person, not a mean bone in his body,” Clayton Mack, a man who shared a house with Thornton and his girlfriend, told The New York Times.
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 planned to teach her daughter how to use a gun.
The New York Times reported that Thornton had a history of financial problems prior to being hired by Hartford Distributors two years ago and had been hounded by debt collectors. Court filings reveal that Thornton was bankrupt at 24 years old and had $600 in his checking account.
His relationship with Hannah was characterized as bumpy, according to The New York Times, and the two appear to have gone through a rough spell in the spring.
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.
Hartford Distributors has never had any complaints filed against it, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said.
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."
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