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Oceanside native killed in shooting mourned at funeral

Police confer outside the Hartford Distributors building where,

Police confer outside the Hartford Distributors building where, the day before, a gunman killed eight and himself in Manchester, Conn. (Aug. 4, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

STAMFORD, Conn. - Oceanside native Louis Felder, 50, was remembered a day after he was killed in a shooting rampage in Manchester, Conn., as a doting father, caring husband and an enthusiastic lover of life, at a service attended by more than 500 people.

Felder was one of eight people killed at Hartford Distributors Inc. in Manchester Tuesday morning when a driver, Omar S. Thornton, 34, opened fire on co-workers before turning the gun on himself, police said.

Wednesday, Thornton's girlfriend, Kristi Hannah, 26, told The Associated Press 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 who said they were going to "get rid of" Thornton and used a racial epithet. Hannah said the instances had driven Thornton to retaliate.

However, the company said Tuesday Thornton's rampage came directly after a meeting - attended by Felder, the firm's operations manager - in which he was confronted with videotaped evidence he had been stealing beer. Company officials then forced him to resign.

Wednesday, Felder's childhood friends Zev Skolnick, of New Rochelle, and Steven Gottesman called him "larger than life." "This wasn't the way it was supposed to be," Skolnick said, holding back tears. "He was supposed to save the day. He was supposed to tackle the guy and take his gun. He never, ever, would let someone do this."

Gottesman said Felder was a pillar of the Oceanside community throughout his youth, participating in everything from leading services to coaching the synagogue basketball team to a championship. "He was Big Louie and he was like an older brother to me," he said. Felder graduated in 1977 from Hillel High School in Lawrence, now the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, before attending Queens College.

At Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Felder's body was carried by family friends in a simple pine coffin adorned with the Star of David. Rabbi Elly Krimsky of The Young Israel of Stamford expressed the Felder family's condolences to the other victims of the tragedy.

"There is no doubt, in his final moments, he stood up for his co-workers and for justice," he said.

"He saw great things in everyone and everything around him," said his son, Gabriel, in a tearful eulogy at the Stamford synagogue. "I promise I will live to be everything you saw in me."

Felder's teenage daughters, Stephanie and Samantha, called him "the best dad anyone could ask for.

"You would always say you're proud of us even when there was no need to be," they said, alternating sentences. "For that we are proud of you."

Felder was buried at the Independence Stamford Lodge Cemetery in Darien following the service. Shiva, the weeklong Jewish mourning period, is being observed at the Felder home in Stamford, starting Wednesday night and continuing through Tuesday morning. In addition to his three children, Felder is survived by his wife, Helen, siblings Gwen Normiel and Joel Felder, and his father, Marvin Felder, of Oceanside.

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