9 dead in Connecticut workplace shooting

The Hartford Courant

(MCT)

MANCHESTER, Conn. — Nine people are dead in a workplace shooting at a Connecticut family-owned beer and wine wholesaler, police said.

Sources said Omar S. Thornton, 34, was a driver for Hartford Distributors and was described by a Teamsters Union official as a recent hire and a “disciplinary problem.”

“The union was bringing him in to meet with the company to remedy the problem,” said John Hollis, a Teamsters official. “He started shooting.”

Thornton shot a number of people and then shot himself with a handgun as police approached and is dead, sources said. Two people were found dead outside the building and five were found dead inside, police sources said.

The shooting victims have so far been identified as Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington; Craig Pepin, 60, of South Windsor; William Ackerman, 51, of South Windsor; Doug Scruton, 56, ofManchester and New Hampshire; Edwin Kennison Jr., 49, of East Hartford, and Victor James, 60, of Windsor.

Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said that, during a meeting with management and union representatives, Thornton was offered the opportunity to resign or be fired.

“He was being escorted from the building when the shots rang out,” Montminy said.

Hollis declined to describe the nature of the disciplinary problem. A law enforcement source said Thornton had been suspected of stealing from the business.

Police searching the 77,000-square-foot building found Thornton in the office area, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, about 8:15 a.m., police said. Police did not fire any shots during the incident, Montminy said.

“He had a bag with him,” which must have contained the handgun, Hollis said of Thornton. “That’s not uncommon, for beer drivers to have a bag for their lunch … and to take their invoices along.”

Hollis said his understanding is that Thornton started shooting without first going outside, so “whatever he had with him, he had in the bag.”

Vinny Quattropani was at the warehouse, toward the end of an overnight shift, when he greeted Thornton in the early morning in a break area, said Quattropani’s father, Mark Quattropani, a 29-year veteran employee of the company who was on vacation Tuesday.

Vinny Quatropanni, 20, a college student from East Hartford at the company for the summer, was loading beer onto a motorized jack when he next saw Thornton near a loading dock.

“He saw Omar raising the gun in his direction, not at him, and heard shots,” Mark Quattropani said. “He turned to look to see where he was shooting, then he saw Doug (Scruton) hanging off his forklift.”

Quattropani then ran with his co-workers into a cooling room and hid there until a SWAT team arrived, his father said.

An unidentified woman sits in the grass at Manchester High School after a shooting at Hartford Distributors, a family-owned beer and wine wholesaler, that left nine people dead in Manchester, Connecticut, on Tuesday, August 3, 2010. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/MCT)

Joanne Hannah, who lives in the Enfield neighborhood where Thornton lived until about a month ago, said her daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for eight years. Thornton, who is black, had complained about being racially harassed at work. Thornton brought his complaints to his superiors, who did nothing about it, she said her daughter told her.

Joanne Hannah said she and her daughter are shocked by the news, and that Thornton seemed to be “the most mellowest, peaceful person.”

In a statement, the Teamsters 1035 said Thornton shot and killed Cirigliano, president of the local, who was there as Thornton’s union representative, and other people at the facility.

“All of these people were at work just trying to do their jobs,” the union’s statement said.

“During the time that Thornton was represented by Local 1035, he reported no concerns about racial discrimination to the union,” the statement said. “We take the representation of all of our members very seriously. In every unit that we represent, we strive to ensure that all workers are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their individual backgrounds.

“We grieve with all of the families that are touched by this terrible tragedy.”

Hollis said he had met Thornton at least a half-dozen times over the two years he estimated Thornton had worked there.

“The guy just seemed to be a good worker,” said Hollis, who had worked for the company himself for 31 years as a driver before his retirement eight years ago. Hollis said his son-in-law and Thornton “knew each other very well; they were very good friends.”

Hollis said that Thornton, as far as he knew, was the most recently-hired driver at the company, having worked at first in a non-driving warehouse job.

Hollis said he had been told that Thornton had been caught on a video camera in the warehouse taking beer for himself.

“The purpose of the meeting in the morning was to confront him with the situation,” Hollis said, adding that he believed that Cirigliano had been “fighting tooth and nail for this guy to get another opportunity” in the session that also included company executive Steve Hollander — who was shot but survived.

“But at that point he just snapped and just shot people around him. I think he just shot indiscriminately,” said Hollis, who arrived at the plant about a half-hour after the shooting.

Asked about the news reports that emerged Tuesday that Thornton had talked of racially based mistreatment, Hollis said that he hadn’t heard anything about that and didn’t believe it. He said the Hollander family, which owns the business, “wouldn’t tolerate that type of thing.”

Joanne Hannah said her daughter called Thornton’s mother, who told her she spoke with Thornton Tuesday morning.

Omar Thornton told his mother he’d shot some people, loved his mother, loved his girlfriend and said he was sorry, Hannah said.

Thornton grew up in Manchester, family members said, and he got his commercial driver’s license after high school.

He had never been arrested, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and was very close to his family, they said. They described him as a “momma’s boy.”

Steve Hollander, a member of the family that founded and owns Hartford Distributors, was wounded, a police source said. He was shot in the neck, the source said. He has been released from the hospital.

“Everyone is devastated by this tragic and senseless act,” said Jim Battaglio, a spokesman for the Hollander family, adding that the Hollander family intends to focus its attention and efforts on the families and the victims.

Manchester Sgt. Sandy Ficara confirmed that Omar Thornton was the shooter. Police believe his fatal gunshot wound was self-inflicted, he said.

“It’s one of those workplace scenes that happens all over the country,” he said.

The shooting began shortly before 7:30 a.m. in a facility of the beer and wine distribution company, one of the state’s largest. At the time, there were about 35 or 40 people in the office and warehouse, said Brett Hollander, the director of marketing for the company.

The East Hartford police tactical response team was training at 7:33 a.m., when the department received a general call for help, said Officer Hugo Benettieri, police spokesman. As a result, the neighboring department was one of the first police agencies at the scene. The team helped with “building entry,” he said.

David Billings, assistant chief of Manchester Fire-Rescue-EMS, said the department’s entire shift was at the scene, about 20 people. The paid department provides paramedic service for the volunteer department that covers that part of town, Manchester Fire Department, Eighth Utilities District.

When the paramedics first got there, they could not go in the building because it was not declared safe, he said.

“In a situation like that, we really have to stand back and wait for victims to come,” Billings said.

Police wearing protective gear and carrying high-powered rifles and rushed into the building, he said. They were the only ones in the building for two and a half hours, Billings said.

One injured worker was able to make it out of the building to seek treatment, but most of those who left were not wounded, a medic said.

The first responders to the shooting saw “heart-breaking carnage,” one officer said.

Among those struck down were “people who appeared to be going about their workday.”

The officer, who asked not to be named, said he believes the shooter was still alive when police first entered the building. Once the shooter realized there was nowhere to go, he shot himself, the officer said.

Shortly after the shooting, a thick column of black smoke could be seen coming from the building. It later turned to white, then stopped as firefighters were on the scene. The fire was caused by a forklift that tipped over when its operator was shot, a law enforcement source said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell met with state police, Manchester police and other officials at the scene of the shootings.

“Shock-stricken and grief-numbed, all the residents of Connecticut are holding the victims and the families and friends of the Hartford Distributors employees close in their hearts this evening,” Rell said in a prepared statement. “For now, that is all many of us can do.”

“I have offered the resources of the state to assist the victims and their families wherever possible as well as the law enforcement, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel who responded to this horrific tragedy,” she said. “Our prayers continue to be with the families of those taken from us today.”

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(Staff writers Matthew Kauffman, Shawn Beals, Steve Goode, Jesse Leavenworth, Hilda Munoz, Vanessa de la Torre, Christine Dempsey, Jon Lender, Dave Altimari, Dave Owens, Dan Haar, Andrew Julien, Julie Stagis, Rachel Lutzker, Tina Bachetti and Rosa Ciccio contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2010, The Hartford Courant

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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