MANCHESTER, Conn – Mourners lit candles, hugged each other and cried as prayers were offered up in a community park Sunday night at a vigil for the victims of a deadly shooting at a beer distribution company.
About 500 people, ranging in age from children to senior citizens, gathered at Center Springs Park nearly a week after Omar Thornton killed eight co-workers and wounded two others before killing himself at the Hartford Distributors building.
Hundreds of candles were lit as the song "Amazing Grace" was played on a violin. Some in attendance brought lawn chairs, while others stood.
Among those gathered was Leon Thibodeau, a friend of one of the slain employees, 51-year-old Bill Ackerman. Thibodeau said he wished his friend could have seen the display.
"I'm sure he would have been proud," said Thidbodeau, 54, who met Ackerman while the two were bartenders years ago. "He was the nicest guy you could ever meet. I just really miss my friend."
Scott Shanley, Manchester's town manager, said the vigil was a "good end to an awful, awful week."
"It's clear that an entire community is embracing the victims and feeling pain for them," Shanley said. "That's all we can do."
Several local religious leaders led the participants in prayer during the hour-long ceremony, including Pastor Carlos Coppin of the First Hispanic Baptist Church, who offered prayers in English and Spanish.
Coppin said after the vigil that he believe the event marked the start of the town's healing process.
"Things like this are needed for closure, and so the families and friends of the victims know that they are not alone, that we are all in this together," he said.
Thornton, 34, a driver caught stealing beer from the warehouse, pulled out a handgun and began shooting after a meeting in which he was shown video evidence of the thefts and was offered the chance to quit or be fired.
Thornton said in a 911 call the day of the shooting he was upset about poor treatment of him and other black employees. But Hartford Distributors president Ross Hollander and relatives of the victims have rejected the claims.