A truck driver accused of stealing beer from his employer emerged from a disciplinary hearing Tuesday and began shooting, killing eight people at the family-owned distributorship, then himself, officials said.
The gunman was identified as Omar S. Thornton, 34, a driver for Hartford Distributors who 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 Teamsters official John Hollis. “He started shooting.”
Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said Thornton had been offered the chance to quit or be fired. Montminy said Thornton was being led away from the meeting when he pulled out a handgun and started shooting.
Thornton, an African American, had complained of racial harassment and said he had found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a bathroom wall, said Joanne Hannah, the mother of Thornton’s girlfriend.
A union official said Thornton had not filed a complaint of racism to the union or any government agency.
“It’s got nothing to do with race,” Teamsters official Christopher Roos said. “This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people.”
Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, president of Teamsters 1035, Roos said. Steve Hollander, a member of the family that founded and owns the company, was one of two people who were wounded but survived, police said.
“Everyone is devastated by this tragic and senseless act,” said Jim Battaglio, a spokesman for the Hollander family.
Thornton’s girlfriend, Kristi Hannah, had been with him the night before the rampage and had no indication he was planning it, her mother said.
Joanne Hannah said she and her daughter were shocked by the news, and that Thornton seemed to be “the most mellowest, peaceful person,” she said.
Thornton called his mother Tuesday morning, telling her he had shot some people, that he loved her and his girlfriend, and that he was sorry, Joanne Hannah said she had been told by her daughter.
The rampage was the nation’s deadliest since 13 people were fatally shot at Ft. 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.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell met with state police, Manchester police and other officials at the scene of the shootings, about 10 miles east of Hartford.
“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 statement. “For now, that is all many of us can do.”
The Hartford Courant and Associated Press contributed to this report.