MANCHESTER—"At that point, he just snapped and just shot people around him. I think he just shot indiscriminately," said Hollis, who arrived at the warehouse about a half-hour after the shooting.
Thornton had with him a bag, which Hollis said must have contained the handgun. "That's not uncommon, for beer drivers to have a bag for their lunch … and to take their invoices along," Hollis said.
The shooting started shortly after 7:30 a.m. when there were 35 or 40 people in the office and warehouse, said Brett Hollander, the company's director of marketing. "Our shifts were just changing," Hollander said.
At the massive warehouse near the Manchester-South Windsor line, police dealt with a chaotic scene — employees fleeing, a fire inside the building caused when Scruton's forklift truck tipped over, dead and wounded people inside and outside the building and a gunman on the loose inside. The first officers to enter the building found what one described as " heart-breaking carnage."
Police from Manchester and several neighboring communities, including a SWAT team from East Hartford that had been in the midst of a training exercise, converged on the 77,000-square-foot building at 131 Chapel Road and immediately began searching for the gunman.
"The police entered with several different elements of a SWAT unit to clear the building," Montminy said. "They had searched the [warehouse] area and were starting to concentrate on the office area when they found the suspect dead of a gunshot wound." Police did not fire their weapons and Montminy said it appeared that Thornton had killed himself.
After the shootings, Thornton called his mother and told her he had shot some people, that he loved her and his girlfriend, and that he was sorry, said Joanne Hannah of Enfield, whose daughter dated Thornton for the past eight years.
Hannah said that Thornton, who is black, had complained about racial harassment at work. Hannah said that Thornton told her a racial epithet had been written and a noose drawn on a bathroom wall and that Thornton had taken photos of them with his cellphone.
Roos said that Thornton never filed a complaint about racial harassment with the union.
"There has never been a racial discrimination complaint made to the union and there has not been one made to any state or federal office that I'm aware of," Roos said.
Hollis said that the Hollander family "wouldn't tolerate that type of thing."
School buses transported employees away from the site about 9:30 a.m. to Manchester High School, where family and friends gathered and detectives interviewed witnesses and survivors. There were also counselors and clergy to assist family members and employees.
Longtime employee Doug Norwood said he was arriving for work when he saw people fleeing the building. Four co-workers leaped into his Jeep and told him to leave.
Norwood said he took one man home and then circled around a nearby shopping plaza with the others. As they drove, he said they listened to reports coming from inside Hartford Distributors via cellphone.
Norwood said he knew Thornton, but not well. Norwood, a driver who has worked for Hartford Distributors for 24 years, said he had tried to help Thornton adjust to the job when he first joined the company.
"He never really embraced the fraternal aspect of being a beer driver," Norwood said as he sat outside his Manchester home with a few friends Tuesday afternoon, contemplating the day's horror.
Norwood said he didn't know when he would be able to go back to work.
Thornton spent his life in and around East Hartford, Manchester and Hartford. Friends said he didn't smoke or drink and was close to his family. He had no criminal record and had only two speeding tickets, which caused his commercial driver's license to be suspended for three months in early 2009. He also possessed a valid pistol permit. He did experience financial trouble, including a personal bankruptcy in 2000.
Several political leaders, including U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-East Hartford, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell visited the scene Tuesday.
Larson, who is close to the Hollanders and some of the Teamsters officials, said "the Hollander family is one of the most venerated families in the Hartford area." The family has owned the business since 1955, when it was headed by Jules Hollander, father of current President Ross Hollander. His children, Brett and Samara Hollander, also work at the company, as does a cousin, Steve Hollander, who was wounded.
Hollis said that when he arrived at the scene, he stood with Ross Hollander, Roos and Larson. Hollis said the four men hugged each other as the enormity of the tragedy unfolded before them.
"The tears were flowing in all of our eyes," Hollis said. "We talked about some people who we knew for many years, who we knew had been shot. This is a tragedy that will never, never be totally understood."
— Staff writers Matthew Kauffman, Shawn Beals, Steve Goode, Jesse Leavenworth, Hilda Muñoz, Vanessa de la Torre, Christine Dempsey, Jon Lender, Eric Gershon, Ken Gosselin, Julie Stagis, Amanda Falcone, Dan Haar, Stephen Busemeyer, Andrew Julien, Rachel Lutzker, Tina Bachetti and Rosa Ciccio contributed to this story.