By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
AREAWIDE — Before Omar Thornton allegedly shot eight people in a Manchester warehouse and turned the gun on himself Tuesday, he called his friend Latroy Dale last week. They spoke for two hours.
Dale is the friend who helped Thornton, 34, get that truck driver’s job at the Manchester-based Hartford Distributors, Inc. about two years ago. In 2000, both men entered driving school for their D & L license. When Dale dropped out of the program, Thornton continued on and received his license. When Thornton applied for the job, he already knew how to drive a truck, friends say.
“They had him in that warehouse for about a year and a half, talking about he was slow. They said he wasn’t ready,” James Dale Sr. said in front of his Bloomfield home. Dale Sr. said he spoke to his son Latroy, 30, yesterday. “Omar made about eight or nine complaints to those people…. Omar let it got to him, and he snapped.”
Dale Sr. also said his son is “all choked up” about Tuesday’s tragedy that left families mourning an “unspeakable loss” on both sides.
The Aug. 3 rampage at Hartford Distributors is the state’s deadliest workplace shooting since the Newington-based Connecticut Lottery Corporation shooting on March 6, 1998, when accountant Matthew Beck, 35, killed four lottery officials before committing suicide.
Thornton’s brother Edward Kinder, 38, theorized that something pushed Thornton to kill those people and then kill himself.
“He’s been dealing with it for two to three years,” Kinder said before he entered his mother’s apartment building in East Hartford today, “They called him porch monkey…nigger…all kinds of names.”
Family members, friends and causal acquaintances of Thornton are still in stupor after learning Thornton shot eight of his co-workers and reportedly committed suicide. They still don’t believe he shot himself. They still don’t believe he stole a case of beer. And they still have questions, they said.
“Why would he put up with that for so long and then stole a case of beer? He doesn’t even drink,” said Hartford resident, Lou Daniels, 51.
Daniels is a store clerk at a gas station on Cottage Grove Road in Bloomfield. He said he saw Thornton about two months ago when he came in to grab a hot dog and a soda. Thornton, Daniels said, would make references to the prejudice on his job.
“I told him it was every where; some places are more overt than others,” Daniels said. “He was such a low-key kind of a person. He was quiet. I think something drove him to that point.”
Teamsters Local 1035 officials said Thornton, a union member, was a disgruntled employee who was “cold as ice.” In an official statement released on Tuesday, they said Thornton filed no complaints about racism on the job. On Wednesday, however, a Teamsters’ spokesman said there was one complaint about a year ago and it was “taken care of right away.”
Also in a press conference on Wednesday, Hartford Distributor’s Marketing Director Brett Hollander said company supervisors caught on tape Thornton stealing beer and asked him to resign. According to Hollander and other company officials, Thornton agreed to resign. Soon after the 7: 00 a.m. disciplinary meeting, Thornton asked for a drink of water and then scuttled off to the kitchen area, where “he must have had a gun.” Minutes later, Thornton appeared and opened fire on President of Teamsters Local 1035 Bryan Cirigliano, 51. Cirigliano was at this meeting as Thornton’s union representative, Secretary Treasurer of Teamsters Local 1035 Christopher Woos said in a statement. Other shootings followed. Company officials said there were about 70 employees at the beer warehouse that morning.
Other victims now dead are Doug Scruton, 56; Bill Ackerman, 51; Francis Fazio Jr., 57; Edwin Kennison, 49; Craig Pepin, 60; and Victor James, 60. Jerome Rosenstein, 77, was in serious condition Wednesday at Hartford Hospital after being wounded.
“It appeared that the first few were targeted,” said Lt. Chris Davis of the Manchester Police Department. “None of them are African Americans.”
Police also said Thornton called his mother shortly after the shooting and said: “I shot the racist bastards.”
Thornton’s mother’s sister Gail Pierson flew up from South Carolina yesterday to “just be with her sister,” Nelle Holliday.
“She’s hurting, too,” Pierson said in a telephone interview. “She lost a son.”
Hartford’s first black mayor and former president of the Greater Hartford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said he also had questions about events that led up to the tragedy.
“Both allegations could be true. We don’t know. He’s dead. But I don’t think the young man would’ve made up those kinds of allegations. …He probably didn’t know he could turn to organizations to file his complaint.”
Milner expressed concern for the victims but said there were also other concerns.
“I’m more concerned when looking at the TV and seeing the employees coming out. I didn’t see one minority,” Milner said. “I know Steve Hollander is a good and fair person, but that doesn’t have anything to do with it…. I think it’s worthwhile looking into how many minority co-workers are at the company. “
Milner said Thornton probably didn’t know he could reach out to organizations such as a state agency or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where employees can file a charge of discrimination.
Carrie Saxon-Perry is a former mayor of Hartford and now the president of the local NAACP chapter. She said she’s been fielding calls from many asking her what the NAACP will do.
“We will be looking into it and asking questions,” Perry said. “Right now we don’t have anything to say. We need to know what happened.”
Dale Sr. said people keep calling his son, too, and they keep asking him what happened.
“Why do they keep asking that? Everybody who is black knows what happened,” he said, especially when we found out Omar was the only black one there.”
But Teamsters Local officials disputed that claim.
“During the time that Thornton was represented by Local 1035, he reported no concerns about racial discrimination to the union,” Roos said in an official statement Aug. 3.
Lt. Davis said today there is no written incident report yet because police are still investigating.