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9 killed in shooting at US beer distributorship

world Updated: Aug 04, 2010 07:32 IST

AP
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A warehouse driver who a union official said was caught on video stealing beer from the distributorship where he worked went on a shooting rampage on Tuesday, killing eight people and wounding two before committing suicide.

Omar Thornton, 34, pulled a handgun after a meeting in which he had been offered the chance to quit or be fired, Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said. Among those killed was Thornton's union representative at the meeting.

The gunman, who was black, had complained of racial harassment and said he found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet written on a bathroom wall, the mother of his girlfriend said. Her daughter told her that Thornton's supervisors told him they would talk to his co-workers.

Brett Hollander, whose family owns the distributorship, said, "I can assure you there has never been any racial discrimination at our company." And a union official said Thornton had not filed a complaint of racism with the union or any government agency. Thornton had been caught on videotape stealing beer, Teamsters official Christopher Roos said.

"It's got nothing to do with race," Roos said. "This is a disgruntled employee who shot a bunch of people." Thornton's girlfriend had been with him the night before the rampage and had no indication he was planning it, said her mother, Joanne Hannah.

On Tuesday morning, about 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Hartford during a shift change when the gunman opened fire, Hollander said. Adding to the chaos at the warehouse was a fire, which was put out. Montminy said he didn't know how the fire started, but didn't think it was set. The shooting was over in a matter of minutes, Montminy said. The victims were found all over the complex, and authorities don't know if Thornton fired randomly or targeted specific co-workers, Montminy said.

After shooting his co-workers, Thornton called his mother, Hannah said.

"He wanted to say goodbye and that he loved everybody," Hannah said.

Thornton was alive when police got to the scene but killed himself before officers got to him, Montminy said. A police sharpshooter had approval to fire on Thornton when he killed himself, an official with knowledge of the scene told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it. Hannah said her daughter, Kristi, had dated Thornton for the past eight years. Kristi Hannah did not return calls for comment. Hannah described Thornton as an easygoing guy who liked to play sports and video games. She said he had a pistol permit and had planned to teach her daughter how to use a gun.

Among the dead was Bryan Cirigliano, 51, president of Teamsters 1035, according to the union. He had been Thornton's representative at Tuesday's disciplinary hearing, the union said. The rampage was the nation's deadliest since 13 people were fatally shot at Fort 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. On Tuesday, a few dozen relatives and friends of the victims gathered a few miles (kilometers) away at Manchester High School. Outside, people talked, hugged and cried. Others talked on cell phones.