9 dead in Connecticut workplace shooting

The Hartford Courant

MANCHESTER, Conn. – Nine people are dead in a workplace shooting at a family-owned beer and wine wholesaler, police said.

Sources said Omar S. Thornton, 34, was a driver for Hartford Distributors and 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 John Hollis, a Teamsters official. “He started shooting.”

Thornton shot a number of people and then shot himself with a .223 caliber semiautomatic rifle as police approached and is dead, sources said.

Hollis declined to describe the nature of the disciplinary problem, and he said he wasn’t certain if the meeting had taken place when the shooting started. A law enforcement source said Thornton had been suspected of stealing from the business.

Joanne Hannah, who lives in the Enfield, Conn., neighborhood where Thornton lived until about a month ago, said her daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for eight years. Thornton, who is black, had complained about being racially harassed at work. Thornton brought his complaints to his superiors, who did nothing about it, she said her daughter told her.

Steve Hollander, a member of the family that founded and owns the company, is one of the wounded, a police source said. He was shot in the neck, the source said.

“Everyone is devastated by this tragic and senseless act,” said Jim Bataglio, a spokesman for the Hollander family, adding that the Hollander family intends to focus its attention and efforts on the families and the victims.
Steven Hollander is in fair condition, he said.

Another shooting victim was identified as Bryan Cirigliano, 51, of Newington, Conn., by a man at Hartford Hospital who said he was Cirigliano’s brother. Bryan Cirigliano is the president of the Teamsters Local 1035 that represents drivers at Hartford Distributors.

Another victim was identified as Victor James, who died at Hartford Hospital, officials said.

Gloria Wilson, 86, said her son Victor would have turned 60 on Aug. 30.

James, of Windsor, Conn., had two adult daughters and four grandchildren.

Two school buses were brought in to transport employees away about 9:30 a.m. They were brought to Manchester High School, where family members gathered.

Manchester Sgt. Sandy Ficara confirmed that Omar Thornton was the shooter. Police believe his fatal gunshot wound was self-inflicted, he said.

“It’s one of those workplace scenes that happens all over the country,” he said.

He confirmed that family members, and possibly some workers, are at Manchester High School. Relatives from out of state have been calling the police station asking about their loved ones, he said. Police have not confirmed the victims’ identities yet, he said.

The shooting began shortly before 7:30 a.m. in a facility of the beer and wine distribution company, one of the state’s largest. At the time, there were about 35 or 40 people in the office and warehouse, said Brett Hollander, director of marketing for the company.

“Our shifts were just changing,” said Hollander, who said the shooter was an employee.

“There are definitely some people that are shot, some people that are dead,” Hollander said, speaking in a tense and shaken voice about 8:30 a.m. Employees were in a warehouse across the street when police entered the building where the shooter was located.

Thornton received two speeding tickets, in February 2007 and December 2008, that led to DMV suspending his commercial driver’s license for three months, according to DMV records.

Thornton filed 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, Conn., for Stericycle, a medical- and hazardous-waste disposal firm. A corporate official said the company would not discuss Thornton.

Shortly after the shooting, a thick column of black smoke could be seen coming from the building. It later turned to white, then stopped as firefighters were on the scene. The fire was caused by a forklift that tipped over when its operator was shot, a law enforcement source said.

A number of bomb squad vehicles were seen entering the property about 9:20 a.m. A state police dispatcher said they were there to check the suspect’s car.

Hartford Distributors is one of the state’s largest beer and wine distributorships, carrying hundreds of brands. The company merged last year with Franklin Distributors, a South Windsor, Conn., company. Employees are represented by the Teamsters union.

Hartford Distributors was founded by Jules Hollander, the father of the current president, Ross Hollander, and grandfather of Brett, the marketing chief, and Steve, who was reported to have been shot.