MANCHESTER—Omar Thornton almost slept through his 6 a.m. wakeup call Tuesday, springing to life only after the teenage brother of his girlfriend nudged him awake.
The 34-year-old kissed his girlfriend Kristi Hannah goodbye, told her he loved her, and then left her East Windsor apartment for work at Hartford Distributors Inc. in Manchester, where he was to meet about 7 a.m. with company and union officials about allegations that he had stolen beer from the beverage wholesaler.
Within hours, he was lying dead on an office floor, having taken his own life as police closed in after a rampage that left eight co-workers dead and made him the biggest mass murderer in state history.
As police worked to unravel what caused Thornton to snap and randomly shoot co-workers as they fled out a back door into nearby woods or sought refuge under desks and other furniture, Hartford Distributors workers consoled each other as they learned who had made it out safely and who had not.
One of Thornton's victims described him as coolly pulling out a gun after the meeting and opening fire.
"He shot at me twice and hit me a couple times," Steve Hollander, chief operating officer of the family-owned business, told The Associated Press. "By just the grace of God, I don't know how he missed [killing] me."
Thornton then "went out on this rampage," Hollander said. "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."
Thornton ran through the warehouse and loading dock area, where up to 40 people were loading cases of beer for morning deliveries, shooting some and letting others live — such as a handicapped woman helplessly sitting at her desk, pleading for her life.
"He ran right by me with the gun," one employee said. "I don't know why he didn't shoot me, too. People were pleading with him to put the gun down and to stop, but he was in his own world at that point."
Vinny Quattropani was at the warehouse, nearing the end of an overnight shift, when he greeted Thornton in a break area, said his father, Mark Quattropani, a 29-year veteran forklift operator for the company who was on vacation Tuesday.
The father said his 20-year-old son was loading beer onto a motorized jack when he saw Thornton about 30 feet away, near a loading dock.
"He saw Omar raising the gun in his direction, not at him, and heard shots," Mark Quattropani said. "He turned to look to see where he was shooting, then he saw Doug [Scruton] hanging off his forklift."
The dead included Bryan Cirigliano and Victor James, fellow drivers and union representatives who fought to save Thornton's job. Craig Pepin, another longtime driver and a soccer coach in his hometown of South Windsor, was killed when he called out to warn co-workers. Scruton and another man who worked in the warehouse, William Ackerman of South Windsor, were also fatally shot. Also killed was Edwin Kennison Jr. of East Hartford. Two victims remained unidentified late Tuesday.
Hollander suffered two gunshot wounds and was treated and released at Hartford Hospital. An unidentified employee remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Hartford Hospital.
Thornton killed "many good people today for absolutely no reason at all, people who've never said an unkind word to him," Hollander said. "He was just shooting at anyone that was near him, and just cruelty beyond cruelty."
"Ten seconds before he started shooting, if you had asked me, does he look like he's going to react in any way? I would have said no, he seems calm," Hollander said. "It makes no sense, the people he killed. Why would somebody do such a thing? They were his co-workers, they never … harmed him in any way."
"All of these people were at work, just trying to do their jobs," said Chris Roos, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 1035 in South Windsor.
John Hollis, a legislative liaison for the Teamsters union, said he had been told that Thornton was caught on a video camera in the warehouse stealing beer. Hollis said the purpose of the meeting was to confront Thornton. Cirigliano, the union president, had been "fighting tooth and nail for this guy to get another opportunity," Hollis said.
Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy said that at the meeting, Thornton had been given the option of resigning or being fired and "was being escorted from the building when the shots rang out."