Fact Check

Omar Thornton

Published Aug 7, 2015

Claim:

FACT CHECK:   Did a black man named Omar Thornton kill eight white co-workers in a racially motivated shooting ignored by the media?

Claim:   A black man named Omar Thornton killed eight white co-workers in a racially motivated shooting not widely reported by news media.

  MIXTURE

Examples:   [Collected via Twitter, August 2015]

Origins:   A racially-motivated mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston in June 2015 resulted in a number of debates about race and mass shootings, among them were social media conversations contrasting the media's treatment of Charleston suspect Dylann Roof with that of a man named Omar Thornton.

According to news reports of the day, on 3 August 2010 a 34-year-old warehouse worker named Omar Thornton shot and killed eight employees of Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Connecticut. Two additional people were wounded, and Thornton died at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Moreover, Thornton indeed told a 911 dispatcher that the shootings were racially motivated. A transcript of a call placed to 911 was published shortly after the shooting by the Hartford Courant and revealed that immediately before he shot himself, Thornton said to the operator:

I'm in the building. Uh, you probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up. This place here is a racist place ... They treat me bad over here, and they treat all the other black employees bad over here too, so I just take it into my own hands and I handled the problem — I wish I coulda got more of the people.

... We're just talking, you're gonna play something on the news, you know I'm gonna be popular, right [inaudible] the right thing. SWAT team just rolled by in army gear. You don't know where I'm at, but, I don't know, maybe you can trace it from this phone call. But, yeah, these people here are crazy, they treat me bad from the start here, racist company. They treat me bad, I'm the only black driver they got here. They treat me bad over here, they treat me bad all the time.

Thornton killed eight people before turning the gun on himself, and he directly told a 911 operator that his actions were racially motivated. However, the news media didn't ignore the shooting: it was widely covered at the time, but people now mistakenly perceive that it wasn't because it happened five years ago, and because it occurred well before the 2014 start of the Black Lives Matter (in response to the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri), or the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin (which sparked a larger debate about race in United States). So while Thornton's actions were widely reported (not ignored) by the national media at the time they occurred, many people no longer recall hearing the story — their memories have faded with the passage of time, and the incident was less memorable (and therefore didn't stick as strongly) due to racial polarization's not being nearly as prominent an issue in the news in 2010 as it was in 2015.

Last updated:    7 August 2015

Originally published:   7 August 2015

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.