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911 calls offer chilling insight into CT rampage

(A gunman walked into a Manchester, Connecticut, beer distribution business and opened fire, shooting multiple people before turning the gun on himself.)

August 5, 2010 9:25:40 AM PDT
The 911 calls from a gunman's 45-minute rampage in a Connecticut beer distributor shed light on the chaos surrounding the deadly shootings.

Police now believe the gunman, Omar Thornton, targeted his victims, singling out managers in his killing spree.

Several people shot had positions of responsibility at the company.

You can hear the fear in the caller's voices as they frantically called for help from their hiding spots in closets and offices. As they were begging to be rescued, the shooter was barging through the warehouse, looking for more victims.

At least five heroes tried to stop the worst mass murder in the state's history. One worker tried to put an end to the killing spree by running Thornton over with a golf cart. All of this was taking place as other employees were making desperate 911 calls for help while the shooter looked for more victims.

The first call came from shooting victim and Hartford Distributors vice president Steve Hollander, who was hiding in an office.

Hollander: "I'm bleeding all over the place."
Operator: "How many people got shot?"
Hollander: "I don't know."
Operator: "OK, you don't know. You're shot where?"
Hollander: "In my head."
Operator: "You were shot in the head?"
Hollander: "Yeah."

One minute into the call, Hollander realizes that Thornton is still shooting.

Operator: "You're bleeding a lot?"
Hollander: "Yeah, and there are people running all over the place."
Operator: "OK. OK."
Hollander: "I just see him running now. He's running away right now. He's shooting at somebody else. He's still shooting. He's shooting at a girl."
Operator: "OK. How many people are down, sir?"
Hollander: "He's still running after people, he's not leaving."

A female employee, sheltered in a dark closet, called 911 four times in five minutes. At times, she is whispering and sobbing, begging to be rescued.

Woman: "I'm hiding in the dark."
Dispatcher: "OK, hide in the dark. Get down. Is the door locked?"
Woman: "No."
Dispatcher: "OK, I want you to hide and not move, OK?"
Woman: "Yes."
Dispatcher: "We have people on the scene. We're trying to get everybody out of there, OK?"
Woman: "Oh my God! I'm in the back storage paper closet. Can you help me?"
Dispatcher: "I'm sorry, what?"
Woman: "I'm in the back paper storage closet."
Dispatcher: "Stay back there and we will come to you, alright?"
Woman: "Help me please, help me!"
Dispatcher: "Ma'am, we are on the way. Please stay down and stay low alright?"
Woman: "Yes."

Hollander, still bleeding, described the carnage he saw from his office window.

Hollander: "He's still shooting. I hear guns out there."
Operator: "Did he used to work there?"
Hollander: "Yeah, until I just fired him."
Operator: "Today?"
Hollander: "Today, just now, before he started shooting. He's chasing people out in the parking lot."
Operator: "He's in the parking lot chasing people."
Hollander: "With his gun, shooting at them."

Twenty minutes later, Hollander called back to check if he could leave his office and to report that there were at least two bodies lying in the hallway outside his office. Police would eventually find seven more bodies, including the shooter's, when they finally got inside the warehouse.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO 911 CALLS

Hollander and 77-year-old Jerome Rosenstein were also shot, but survived. Rosenstein attempted to run down Thornton with a golf cart and is now fighting for his life.

Thornton's relatives say racism may have pushed him to his breaking point. He reportedly was caught on video stealing beer and was given a chance to resign instead of being fired, which officials say he calmly agreed to.

In one of the 911 calls, a woman hiding under her desk tells an emergency dispatcher that a co-worker is in the midst of a shooting spree. The dispatcher presses for any information about the man.

"I don't know anything," the woman says. "He's a tall black guy. He's like the only black guy that works here."

Family and friends say Thornton was only too painfully aware of that distinction, as he claimed he was subjected to racial discrimination.

Authorieis say Thornton packed to pack two .9 mm pistols in his lunch box and a shotgun in his car before he headed to work Tuesday for a meeting with his union representative and supervisors to discuss his continued employment in what his girlfriend said was once his dream job.

Thornton's girlfriend of eight years, Kristi Hannah, told the AP on Wednesday she knew something was wrong when he left for work a day earlier.

"He just kept having this dazed, confused look on his face, and I never saw him like that before," she said. "I could tell something was bothering him. I asked him what was wrong a bunch of times and he said nothing was wrong with him...That's why he gave me a long hug and kiss before he left."

Hannah said Thornton had complained of racial harassment to her months ago and had shared with her evidence of it: photos of racist graffiti and a surreptitiously monitored conversation allegedly involving company managers.

Union and company officials say Thornton never complained of harassment and there have never been reports of racial discrimination at the company.

The victims include Bryan Cirigliano, 51, president of Teamsters 1035 and Thornton's representative at the hearing; and Louis Felder, 50, who news reports described as the company's operations director.

Other victims were Doug Scruton, 56; Bill Ackerman, 51; Francis Fazio Jr., 57; Edwin Kennison, 49; Craig Pepin, 60; and Victor James, 60. Rosenstein was wounded and was in serious condition Wednesday at Hartford Hospital.

CLICK HERE for profiles of the victims.

Friends and family of those who died said they couldn't imagine their loved ones discriminating against Thornton.

One driver who was killed, Kennison, had mentioned Thornton before but never in a derogatory way, said Mark McCorrison, a close friend. Kennison was not the type to make bigoted remarks, he said.

"I can tell you right now: Eddie is not that person," McCorrison said.

Pepin, also a driver, was never angry, let alone someone who showed any hint of racism or bigotry, said a neighbor who knew him for 25 years.

"Craig, who was active as a coach in town with all kids - all races of kids - for years, he didn't care. He just worked with the kids," Ted Jenny said. "There was no way Craig Pepin was racist."

The only complaint Thornton ever made to the union was when he asked to be promoted from an entry-level job to a driver, said Gregg Adler, a union lawyer. The union explained to him that because of seniority rules, he would have to wait his turn until a job opened up. Eventually it did, and he was promoted about a year ago, Adler said.

Michelle T. Johnson, a diversity consultant and former employment lawyer, said workers who face discrimination are often reluctant to file a formal complaint, even if the misconduct is serious.

"Once a person of color raises an issue of discrimination, the reaction they can get just makes it very stressful," she said.

It's not clear whether every victim was targeted or whether some were shot randomly, Davis said. The victims died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

A funeral for Felder, an Orthodox Jew, was held Wednesday afternoon in Stamford, and a Mass to remember all the victims was held Wednesday evening at St. Margaret Mary Church in South Windsor.

--
Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.


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