August 4th, 2010
11:22 AM ET

Witnesses: Connecticut killer was calm before shootings

Witnesses say Omar Thornton began shooting at his office after he was given the choice to be fired or resign.

Omar Thornton, 34, walked into a room early Tuesday at the beverage distributorship where he worked in Manchester, Connecticut.

It was around 7 a.m. - shift change time. Workers were filing in and out of the office.

Inside an office room, company and union officials played a video. Thornton calmly watched images that purportedly showed him stealing from a truck.

An employee of Hartford Distributors for two years and a driver for one, Thornton was given a choice of resigning or being fired, union and company officials said. He signed a resignation paper, was escorted out of the room and toward the door.

Then, company CEO Ross Hollander told CNN, he asked for a drink of water.

Moments later Thornton pulled out a handgun and began firing, officials said. Police believe he had brought two 9mm handguns to the building in a lunchbox. In the kitchen, he pulled out the guns and shot his two escorts.

"Then he went out on this rampage," company vice president Steve Hollander told The Associated Press. "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."

Marissa Busiere, a receptionist, told WFSB she heard another co-worker screaming as shots rang out.

" 'He's shooting! He's shooting! Call 911.' And everyone started running out of the building," Busiere told WFSB.

Thornton "went through the whole building in a very short amount of time" as workers cowered under desks and in "nooks and crannies" and 9-1-1 calls poured in, police officials said.

At least 50 people, and as many as 100, could have been in the office around the time, workers told the media.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time of day," Teamsters union official John Hollis told CNN affiliate WTNH. "They have third shift going on, the first shift coming on, the office staff there, the sales staff there. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. All the drivers are picking their loads."

Within minutes, the gunman and eight other people were dead, and two others were wounded, according to Manchester police and a union official.

CNN: Victims named | Profiles of the victims

Thornton told his girlfriend he had reported to a company supervisor and a union representative about racial harassment at work but they did nothing about it, Joanne Hannah said Tuesday. Hannah said Thornton showed her daughter, Kristie, a cellphone photo of racial epithets and a stick figure with a noose around its neck drawn on a restroom stall. He was in a stall once and heard a co-worker say "they wanted that n-– out of there," she said.

She said Thornton was one of two black employees.

"This poor guy got pushed to the limit," she said.

Family members said he had told them about the incident - but because Thornton was such a calm and collected guy, they had no idea he would react with violence.

Teamsters officials deny allegations that Thornton, who was black, snapped because of racial harassment.

Shortly after the shootings, Thornton’s mother told CNN affiliate WFSB that she received a phone call shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday. It was her son - and he told her he had just shot several people and planned to kill himself. She told WFSB she tried for about 10 minutes to plead with him not to go through with it - but it didn't work.

"He said, ‘I killed the five racists that was there bothering me, Will Holliday, Thornton’s uncle, told WFSB. “He said, ‘That’s it. The cops are going to come in so I’m going to take care of it myself.’”

soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. Emmanuel

    Guys, calm down. You are all being emotional and are already taking sides. Truth is we don't have all the facts.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. jessica storey

    people are tired ot lousey supervisors and lousey people sounds like he went after the offenders. look out america more is coming employers think they can do what they want peoples jobs are their lives why workplace violence so high now they bosses use it to get rid of good people. i feel sorry for the guy but noone will learn from it thats whats sad i agree with serves them right yep i do managers mostly suck send them to live with the fishes are lawyers next should be

    August 5, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      You could have the best argument in this entire blog (which you don't), but no one would listen because you sound like a moron. Time to use your big girl grammar if you want to be part of this conversation, and if you think he was justified in what he did because all managers "suck" then I hope I never have the bad luck of meeting you in real life. It's people like you that cause all the trouble for the rest of us in this world.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. mr.niceGuy

    what this guy did has no excuse . with that being said, in this Divided States of America racisim is the norm and if you dont believe that people who are discriminated against (which i dont find hard to believe in this case ) will snap and eventually get revenge on their oppressers your a fool. Pack mentality takes over when you have a company which is 98% white and will turn non racists into one. this guy was a coward but in many ways not, because he put an end to his misery but striking out at the bigots who made his life hell. maybe now jed and bob will think twice about drawing cartoons of nooses on the bathroom stalls !! i feel for all the familes involved today is a sad day for them .... ok peace

    August 5, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kat Nanton

    If the story has been buried, it's because CNN(Rick Sanchez) hoped to make it about race, but when the killer turned out to be an animal who hunted his prey down because he got caught stealing, it was no longer as interesting to the Ricks of the world. They wanted to paint a picture of a hardworking mellow guy who was fired because he was black. They didn't bother telling you the guy filed for bankruptcy in 2000 at age 24, under the name Thornton Omar Sharriff. He reported $600 in the bank and nearly $16,000 in debts, including a car loan and student loans. At the time, he was a delivery driver in Middletown for Stericycle, a medical- and hazardous-waste disposal firm. A corporate official said the company would not discuss Thornton. Thornton received a speeding ticket in February 2007 and another in December 2008 that led the state Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend his commercial driver's license for three months, according to DMV records. All they try to do is paint a picture of this poor black victim to rationalize his heinous murders–chasing people till he filled them with bullets.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Chenille

    It's very sad if he was a victim of racism at the job but that has nothing to do with the fact that he was asked to resign because he was stealing from the company. I think the media is focusing on the wrong thing, being a victim of racism at work and stealing from your job has nothing to do with the other. My thoughts are that he didn't go on a shooting spree because he felt he was being harrassed, he went on the shooting spree because he got caught stealing and technically was fired.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sad

    This is all hypothetical, but if this guy stole the beer, it is likely that it was not the first time he violated company policy. The video evidence was what the company needed to justify firing the individual. Also, the racism he reported to his family was such that he would not know who the perpetrators were (i.e. writing on a bathroom stall), unless he keenly detected whose voice uttered the racial slur suggesting the need to be "rid of the n-–", and then based his conclusion off that assumption. Therefore I find it difficult to believe that he was able to target several individuals for said offenses. Moreover, I believe that such a comment was made, upsetting Omar, but if you are breaking the law and hurting the company, I understand the driving force behind other employees' resentment. And referring to someone as a "n-–" presumably behind their back, while not a good way to deal with anger, is far less offensive than killing 8 of your coworkers. I think it would be interesting to speak to the other black employee of the company to hear whether or not he dealt with racial derogation from other employees.

    August 5, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Facts

    I hope my previous comment went through.. it isn't showing up yet.

    August 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FactOLife

    Okay, I have been reading these comments for hours now. I have read almost each one and many have gotten me to think about this situation. To start with, I think that it is important that people look at the facts alone. To start with - Fact: Omar was being forced to leave the company by resignation or by being fired. Speculation: There was surveillance videos of him stealing beer. I am not saying that this did not happen, but there is no proof to the public that Omar stole. They company claims there is a tape, but it has not been shown to the public and therefore has to be put on back burners and discredited for the time being. From there, he was escorted toward the exist, but made a pit stop for "water." He then pulled out a gun from his lunchbox and began to kill people. Fact: He had a concealed weapon that he used to kill with. Speculation: He did this because he was being discriminated/harassed. Speculation: He says people referred to him using a derogatory remark, but again that cannot be verified at this time and will probably go unverified. Speculation: there were drawings in the bathroom that were racist. The rumor is that these pictures are on his phone and they should still be in the bathroom. So, until his phone is gone through for these pictures (and can be verified that the pictures were at the company) OR until an investigation is done to go into the bathrooms to uncover the drawings, this has to be discredited and moved to the back burners as well. Next, Omar killed 8 people and then himself. His uncle says that Omar killed the 5 racists. Fact: 8 people were murdered. Speculation: 5 of those 8 were racist and harassed/discriminated against Omar. However, a point can be made that Omar did not just reserve his killing to the supposed racists that he mentioned. Rather, he killed at least 3 innocent people. Therefore, the facts are the a man (whose race at this point cannot come into the picture because there is no evidence to support that his race matters) was being forced out of his job for allegedly stealing (which there is a supposed video that has not been disclosed to the public and therefore Omar can only be accused not actually convicted in the public eye) from the company. From there, the man (Omar) took out a gun (2 I believe) and killed 5 people who allegedly discriminated/harassed him due to his color (which at this time cannot be proven or unproven so therefore that cannot come into play). He then killed 3 other innocent people (since they were not racist toward him, according to Omar's talk with his uncle). He then killed himself rather than face his family, his victims' families, the judicial system, etc. A man killed people. The worst part is that this is not the first work related killing "rampage" as CNN puts it. No, this has been happening for some time now and other places of work have had similar instances where no race is involved. I do not claim to know extensive details on these other cases other than the fact that they exist and no race played into it. This crime, from the facts that have been presented to the general public thus far, is that a man murdered coworkers. For whatever reasons, he still committed a crime and until further concrete facts come out, it is hard to back up any claims of prejudice or racism. Peace and Much Love, East Coast White Male

    August 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex Brown

      You talk like a typical white person. No, one knows what was going on in his head. We don't know if someone tried to get the gun away from him. We don't know if there was another person involved. We don't know much of anything yet. We can only go by speculations. Before he killed himself he used the word racist, that is how black people feel about alot of white people when they are discriminated against. He killed the indviduals that he felt needed to die. The other people probably got in the way trying to be a hero. We don't know.

      August 5, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Penny

    OMG!!! either resign or get fired...either way it was a choice he was given. He took it upon himself to take the lives of others no matter what HIS situation was. If he had any ligalities after his decision he could have gotten an attorney and done it the legal way, NOT open fire on innocent people....Stupidity! Stupidity!

    August 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Alex Brown

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but those people deserve what happen to them. Why do you think he reacted that way? I know first hand how racism is in the northeast. Most caucasians feel that they have a right to talk and treat indivduals how they want too especially if they have a little money or power. I truly feel sorry for the familiy memebers of the victims, but you must realize the underlying situation here. Racism is still active in the world. He was a blackman that did not want to be treated that way anymore and taking his livelyhood away (his job) pushed him to the end. That is not a normal reaction from a black person. He was punished for being black in a company that was primarly made up of older babyboomer caucasians.

    August 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Ok, just by saying "most caucasions feel they have the right" is a racist statement. I am completely shocked that a person that feels so strongly about racism would use a stereotype like that. I'm also extremely offended about being part of your assumption being a white male living in CT. You have no right to say something like that and if you do get harrassed and discriminated against, then you are obviously not in a good area. It's just your type of thinking that makes people look at race even more. I promise there are more non racists than racists out there, you just have to open your eyes and look.

      August 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stephanie J

    @Blll Reverse Racist? You mean kind of like those white students who drove other white students to shoot up Columbine. Or when Jeffrey Weise (white) shot up those white students at Red lake senior highschool, Or when that asian guy shot up those white students at Virginia Tech, or when the white student shot up other white students at Heath High School in Kentucky...The list of white shooting up other whites (who bully them) goes on and on. Do you mean typical like that? Oh how soon we forget huh! There will continue to be shootings in our schools and in our workplace as long as there are bullies (whether they are Cliques at High Schools, Racist bullies, Bullies who don't like gay people what ever) as long as people think they can bring someone down there will be those people who snap and finally say enough is enough no matter what excuse they use. The overall message IS STOP BULLYING PEOPLE STOP THINKING YOUR $%^# DON"T STINK AND YOU ARE THE ONLY RACE THAT HAS RIGHTS!!!!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. charles

    I'm black, male and under 30. This man was sick for awhile. He coldly murdered people. I doubt he would've reported what happened. He's been through a lot financially, it seems and he stole-made a bad mistake. What gets me is people say -he's wrong for playing the race card- but seem to agree with other posters who say the same thing AND THEN SAY BLACKS ARE LAZY THIEVES. I work, like this guy did BEFORE he stole. I've NEVER stolen anything. I work THREE JOBS. Pay taxes and don't break the law, yet for some reason even the college I went to HBCU's are called LAZY with less funding when if I had gone to a white school from the underfunded high school I went to, it's assumed I'm LAZY. This dude was wrong but imagine waking up and everyday you're seen as a criminal or lazy...for NO REASON. I've met PLENTY of whites who are lazy and good for nothing...does that justify white colleges existing where its an issue for others to even attend? Does it justify labeling whites as lazy? No. Stop allowing extremist people to join you. Same thing with the Republicans. Pat Buchanan, Limbaugh, Hannity...think about it. I pay taxes to hear them say I'm lazy....erroneously.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. estudia

    bamma06 – who are these "black people" who you claim "get and get and get"? Get WHAT? Are you suggesting that your so called "friends" that you work with "get and get and get", meaning they got hired because of some affirmative action program, but of course you were qualified? You might think they are your friends, but you are NOT their friend! YOU are priceless! Didn't take you long to put everybody in the same category, but the facts are that me and many many other people of color work hard everyday and earn EVERYTHING they receive. Also, don't forget that we are even discussing race because white people benefited as a class from white affirmative action – in employment, in education, in housing, in every facet of American life. Now, remember too that this affirmative action (where white people "got and got and got" what many did not work for or were unqualified for) was protected by laws (that white people created) and by vicious violence! If you REALLY want to free your mind and move beyond your tired diatribe, read the following "When Affirmative Action Was White" and anything by Andrew Hacker (both written by white men). the way, your so called "black friends" at work probably took all of 2 seconds to figure out that you are not what you claim to be! I can assure you, they KNOW and they are definitely watching their backs around you!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. ezell

    I am a Black person in this country, and I feel sad that 9 persons had to lose their lives. I was hoping that as we entered a new era in this country after the election of its first bi-racial president, that we would began to form a "United Nation" that would treat all of its citizens with equality. Not so. I feel that what this Black man went through that pushed him to the limits of taking lives should tell "White" people something is wrong with the state of race relationships in this nation. If a person is willing to kill himself because of injustice they perceive, theirs is no excuse for Whites to believe racism does not exist or that it is a rare event or a figment in the imagination in the minds of many Black people.

    August 7, 2010 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. uhoez

    August 7, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
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