As police on Friday concluded their on-scene investigation into Tuesday's mass killing at Hartford Distributors, they also began evaluating their response to the tragedy.
New details have emerged about the chaotic scene police encountered as they arrived less than three minutes after the first call to 911 at 7:25 a.m., and about what occurred during Omar Thornton's brief but murderous rampage.
Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said Friday that the fast response by police saved lives, and that he told his officers during a debriefing Friday, "No one else died once you arrived on scene."
"Once the police got there, there was only one more shot, and that was when he shot himself," Montminy said.
The tactics police employed Tuesday were adopted in the aftermath of the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado. While two gunmen roamed the school, police surrounded it and waited for a SWAT team to arrive.
"At Columbine, many people died while the police were surrounding the outside," Montminy said. "The law enforcement response to the active shooter situation has changed."
In such situations, police no longer wait for SWAT. Officers now undergo intense training designed to prepare them to form into small teams and enter a building to find the shooter and end the danger. That's what happened Tuesday at Hartford Distributors.
The first two officers arrived at 7:28 a.m. to find two badly wounded men outside and workers — some hysterical — running in all directions from the 77,000-square-foot building at 131 Chapel Road.
At 7:35 a.m., a team of five officers entered the building to begin looking for the shooter. By 7:45 a.m. four or five more teams, made up of officers from several nearby towns and the state police, were searching the building for Thornton, who had holed up in a locked office.
"The goal … is to insert enough law enforcement officers into the situation that the suspect engages police and is stopped or barricades himself," said Vernon Police Chief James Kenny. That usually prevents the suspect from shooting any more people, and that's what happened Tuesday.
"Sometimes that's very dangerous, but that's what we get paid to do," Montminy said.
Montminy said he thinks Thornton took shelter when he saw police arrive. Those who were shot were hit within minutes of the end of a meeting at which Thornton was confronted with video evidence that he had stolen from the company and resigned his position. He pulled out two handguns and opened fire and quickly shot 10 people, killing eight.
Thornton called 911 shortly before 8 a.m. and said, "I wish I coulda got more of the people." He had eight rounds left in his Ruger handgun, but had become separated from a second handgun and additional ammunition. Police found him dead at 8:11 a.m.
"He wished he'd been able to kill more people," Kenny said. "He didn't want to confront the officers. Their interceding as fast as they did prevented further deaths. It would have been much, much worse."
Many communities put all officers through the training at least once a year. Manchester police have trained at the Buckland Hills mall, Montminy said.
Besides being caught on tape stealing beer, Thornton also was spotted during surveillance giving beer to other people, according to police.
East Windsor police on Friday arrested an Enfield woman on sixth-degree larceny charges for allegedly getting beer from Thornton. Christy A. Quail, 33, of 13 Burnham St., was captured on video surveillance, recorded by a private investigator hired by Hartford Distributors to follow Omar Thornton after he was suspected of stealing from the company. Thornton gave beer from his truck to Quail in East Windsor, authorities said.
Manchester police Lt. Christopher Davis said his department turned over to East Windsor information it received from Hartford Distributors, which included surveillance footage of Thornton taking beer from his truck and giving it to other people.
— Courant Staff Writer Shawn Beals contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times