Peace and serenity at HDI’s memorial garden

By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Thu., Aug. 4, 2011
Memorial sculptures for each of eight shooting victims glisten in the garden on the Hartford Distributors, Inc., property. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.
Memorial sculptures for each of eight shooting victims glisten in the garden on the Hartford Distributors, Inc., property. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.

Gathered at Hartford Distributors, Inc., on Aug. 3, several hundred people – employees, former employees, their families, police officers, company officials and local dignitaries – remembered the victims of last year’s workplace shooting during the official dedication of a memorial sculpture garden.

The garden is a cluster of sculptures commissioned by the Manchester Rotary Club. It memorializes the late William Ackerman, union president Bryan Cirigliano, Francis Fazio, Sr., Louis Felder, Victor James, Edwin Kennison, Craig Pepin and Doug Scruton.

Chapel Road in Manchester – just over the South Windsor town line – was the scene of a workplace nightmare on Aug. 3, 2010. Teams of police and first responders from around the region quickly arrived to find a shooting spree in progress. The massacre ended with nine people dead, including the gunman, former HDI truck driver Omar Thornton, who took his own life.

At the memorial dedication, there was a sense of peace among HDI employees and families of victims. The garden to honor the memories of the eight victims who lost their lives is neatly tucked into a forested area on the HDI property. HDI is a private, family-owned and operated beer distribution company. It recently added to its plant floor and acquired Franklin Distributors, to expand its territory.

In addition to those who died, others were shot and wounded, but survived to pay their respects to former coworkers' families. Employees and company officers at the ceremony described everyone at HDI as an extended family.

Some said the remembrance brought back horrific memories of the day of the tragedy.

Noting that in war, a unit is trained to face danger and even death, Glenn Barksdale, the current shop steward for Local 1035, said, “But we were just employees going to work, helping each other. We were not prepared for this.”

Even police officers admitted that the day came back to mind as if it were just yesterday, not a year ago.

Ross Hollander, CEO of HDI, said the employees and the families of the victims have kept the company together since the tragedy.

Brilliant blue skies, emerald green lawns, and a white tent where a buffet breakfast was served contrasted with the darkness of the forest now twinkling with eight silver-toned sculptures. The artwork resembles towers of stacked silver boxes; one tower for each of the eight victims, all connected with a wire cable at the top.

Each of the sculptures is engraved with the name of the person it honors, and each features a unique inscription. The sculptures are hollow, to allow family to enclose time capsules, messages, and remembrances of each loved one. Granite bench seats offer a place to meditate or pray.

Marcy Hollander said the ceremony was “simply beautiful.”

“The families of the victims are hanging in there,” she said. Her stepson, she noted, was one of the people who was shot, but survived.

No one present at the ceremony made excuses nor condoned what happened a year ago, but Thornton was on the minds of many. A few spoke out privately. 

“I pray for his mother,” employee Roy Hayes said. “She did not raise her son to have this happen. It is a good company, I have worked here for 30 years,” he added.

Some reports have characterized Thornton as a “disgruntled employee.” His girlfriend claimed he had been harassed. Some coworkers said he was stressed by the enormity of the job - delivering about 1,000 cases of beer a day with multiple stops - and possibly humiliated by a private investigator sting that allegedly caught him stealing beer on video camera.

“The memorial garden is a place of peace, serenity and beauty to celebrate great people and their families,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D), who flew in from Washington, D.C., to offer his respects. “In Washington, D.C., I see monuments every day, but this is a living memorial,” he said.


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