'Day of Mourning' for CT shooting victims

Church and town leaders held community candlelight vigil for victims of the fatal shooting rampage at a Connecticut beer distribution company on Sunday August 8, 2010. (Todd Pierce)

August 9, 2010 4:38:53 PM PDT
A "Day of Mourning" was held for the eight workers fatally shot at a Manchester beer distributor nearly a week ago.

Two additional memorial services are scheduled for the eight workers fatally shot at a Manchester beer distributor nearly a week ago.

The town of Manchester has scheduled a special service Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the North United Methodist Church. A second ceremony is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Hartford's Bushnell Memorial Theater.

Also, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents workers at the plant, has established a memorial fund to raise money for the families of the victims.

John Hollis, Teamsters' legislative liaison, said Monday that more than $50,000 has already been donated to be set aside for the fund and clients of the beer distributing company have also been gathering contributions.

Hollis says the individuals eligible for the trust is still being finalized.

There was comfort in numbers as Manchester residents came out Sunday night to stand side by side to honor those lost and to seek answers in the wake of their worst nightmare.

It was a quiet, somber gathering.

About 1,000 people stood on the lawns of Manchester's Memorial Park to remember the victims and to find solace.

As clergy prayed, heads were bowed and candles lit.

Whether they knew the victims well or indirectly, no one was left untouched by the massacre at the Hartford Distributors last Tuesday.

That's where a disgruntled employee, Omar Thornton, killed 8 innocent co-workers and injured two others before taking his own life.

The men he murdered were husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends.

They were the salt of the community.

The shooting, coupled with the killer's claims of racism at the workplace, certainly devastated this peaceful community, but did not destroy its spirit.

The owner of the beer distributor company was embraced in compassion Sunday night.

Funeral services were held Saturday for Craig Pepin, Bryan Cirigliano, Douglas Scruton and Victor James.

A service for Edwin "Eddie" Kennison, Jr., was held Sunday, and William Ackerman will be mourned Monday.

A service was held Wednesday for Louis Felder.

Meanwhile, Gov. M. Jodi Rell called for a day of remembrance for the victims Monday, including a moment of silence at 9:15 a.m. She said the victims' friends and families "have our support and our prayers."

CLICK HERE for much more on the victims

Thornton said in a 911 call that he'd been racially discriminated against, but the company said he'd never complained about racism.

"This is Omar Thornton, the shooter over in Manchester," he says to the 911 operator.

He says repeatedly that the motive behind the shooting is because of racial harassment.

"You probably want to know the reason for this. This place is a racist place, they treat me bad over here," he said.

Thornton tells the 911 operator, "I'm not going to kill nobody else," but also says, "I wish I could've got more of the people."

When the operator asks for his location in the building, Thornton responds, "I'm not going to tell you that. When they find me that's when everything will be over.

"Tell my people that I love them and I got to go now," Thornton said before he ended the nearly four-minute phone call.


Hartford Distributors president Ross Hollander said there was no record to support claims of "racial insensitivity" made through the company's anti-harassment policy, the union grievance process or state and federal agencies.

"Nonetheless, these ugly allegations have been raised and the company will cooperate with any investigation," Hollander said.

The union said 14 of 69 dock workers, or 20 percent, were racial minorities - four black, nine Hispanic, one Asian.

The idea that Thornton's motive may not have been retaliation for losing his job has not sat well with many of the people who knew the victims and have firsthand knowledge of the environment inside the enormous distribution center in Manchester.

"Everybody just thinks this race card is such a wrong thing," said Michael Cirigliano, whose slain brother, Bryan, was Thornton's union representative at the disciplinary meeting and the president of the local union.

Michael Cirigliano also spent three decades working at the warehouse before he retired two years ago.

"The Hispanics and the blacks were telling me they've never seen anything they're accusing the company of in the bathrooms or anywhere else at HDI," he said. "It's never been separated white, black, Asian. It's never been like that."

He said the company had increased its hiring of minorities in recent years.

"They've been bringing in more and more minority people to fill the positions," Cirigliano said. "You could almost go as far as that's reverse discrimination. They were hiring the groups to balance the workplace, because that's what we are in America, there's a balance."

Anthony Napolitano, the son-in-law of victim Victor James, 60, of Windsor, said James treated everyone equally, regardless of race or religion.

Truck driver David Zylberman, a 34-year employee of the company, said that the racism claims "pissed me off because they were good people."

Thornton's ex-girlfriend, Jessica Anne Brocuglio, 30, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he had a history of racial problems with co-workers at other jobs and believed he was denied pay raises because of his race.

She said he told her: "I'm sick of having to quit jobs and get another job because they can't accept me."

Thornton's girlfriend of the past eight years, Kristi Hannah, said he showed her cell phone photos of racist graffiti in the bathroom at the beer company and overheard managers using a racial epithet in reference to him. Police said they recovered the phone and forensics experts would examine it.

The union's lawyer, Gregg Adler, said the claims of racial mistreatment can be difficult to disprove, but if they had been raised by any employee the union would have acted immediately.

"There's not even a connection between the violence and the accusations as far as we can tell," Adler said. "The only people who were targeted were the people who happened to be in his meeting. And then he went to the warehouse, he just killed people who happened to be near the door."

The 911 operator attempted to keep Thornton on the phone and to talk him into surrendering. Thornton said he would not give up his location in the building and knew police were looking for him.

"When they find me, that's when everything will be over," he said, assuring the operator he was not going to kill anyone else.

He then said he saw a SWAT team and hastened to get off the phone.

"Tell my people I love them and I gotta go now," he said.

Police found him dead with a gunshot wound to his head.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)