Mother of Conn. warehouse shooter’s girlfriend says he had complained of racial bias at work

By Stephen Singer, AP
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Woman says Conn. shooter complained of race bias

MANCHESTER, Conn. — A woman who knows the driver who fatally shot at least eight co-workers and himself at a Connecticut beer distribution company says he had complained of racial harassment at work.

Joanne Hannah says her daughter dated Omar Thornton for the past eight years. She says her daughter had no indication he planned anything violent Tuesday morning after he was asked to resign from Hartford Distributors and refused.

Hannah says Thornton, a black man, had complained to his superiors about a picture of a noose and a racial epithet in a bathroom at the distributor. Her daughter told her the supervisors did not respond to his complaints.

Hannah says Thornton called his own mother after the rampage “to say goodbye and that he loved everybody.”

Company officials have not responded to requests for comment.

Associated Press writer John Christoffersen in Enfield, Conn., contributed to this report.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) — A warehouse driver who was asked to resign his job at a beer distributor went on a shooting rampage Tuesday morning that left nine people dead, including himself, and others wounded, company and government officials said.

The number of dead was confirmed by a Connecticut government official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Authorities were notifying victims’ relatives before confirming the number of deaths, state police Lt. J. Paul Vance said.

The driver, Omar Thornton, had worked at the distributor for a couple of years and been called in for a disciplinary hearing, said John Hollis of the Connecticut Teamsters, who was with company officials at the scene of the shooting.

Hollis would not say why Thornton was being disciplined. When police found him, he had been shot, Manchester police Lt. Joe San Antonio said.

About 50 to 70 people were in the warehouse during a shift change when the gunman opened fire around 7 a.m., said Brett Hollander, whose family owns Hartford Distributors. Adding to the chaos was a fire at the warehouse, about 10 miles east of Hartford, that was put out. Police did not know whether the fire was related to the shootings.

Among the victims was Hollander’s cousin, a vice president at the company who was shot in the arm and the face. Hollander said he thought his cousin would be OK.

“There was a guy that was supposed to, was asked to resign, to come in to resign and chose not to and shot my cousin and my co-workers,” Brett Hollander told the AP.

Joanne Hannah told the Hartford Courant her daughter Kristi had dated Thornton for eight years. Thornton, who is black, had complained about being racially harassed at work, Hannah said. Thornton complained to his superiors, who did nothing about it, she said her daughter told her.

Kristi Hannah did not immediately return a call for comment.

Two victims were taken to Hartford Hospital, spokeswoman Michaela Donnelly said. One was in critical condition, and one was in fair condition. Families of workers gathered at the town high school to wait for information and comfort each other.

The rampage was the nation’s deadliest since 13 people were fatally shot at Fort Hood, Texas, last November. A military psychiatrist is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in that case.

It was the worst workplace shooting in Connecticut since 1998, when a state lottery worker gunned down four supervisors before committing suicide.

Police officers from numerous agencies and police and fire vehicles surrounded the warehouse, on a tree-lined road in an industrial park just west of a shopping mall.

In a statement, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered condolences to the victims’ families and co-workers.

“We are all left asking the same questions: How could someone do this? Why did they do this?” she said.

Associated Press writers Susan Haigh and Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.; John Christoffersen in New Haven, Conn.; and Michelle R. Smith in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.

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