msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/4/2010 10:51:49 AM ET 2010-08-04T14:51:49

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."

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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."

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

Source: Violence Policy Center | Link |

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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