COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It looked like something out of a macabre heavy-metal video: The lights dimmed in the smoke-filled nightclub, the rock band Damageplan launched into its first thunderous riffs, and then a man in a hooded sweatshirt ran the length of the stage and opened fire, shooting the lead guitarist at least five times in the head.
In just minutes, the gunman had killed three others before being shot to death by a police officer.
The rampage Wednesday night stunned the heavy metal world and left police searching for answers about what set the gunman off.
The slain guitarist, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, 38, was a driving force behind the rock band Pantera, and police are looking into reports from witnesses that the gunman was a fan irate that the hugely influential group broke up.
Some of the 500 people packed into the club to see Abbott’s new band initially thought that the gunman was an excited fan or that the shootings were part of the show.
“I figured it was another fan wanting to jump off the stage and crowd surf,” said Brian Kozicki, the club’s lighting designer. “I think he knew he wasn’t going to get out and he was going to take down as many people as he could.”
Police identified the gunman as Nathan Gale, 25, who listened to Pantera music to psyche himself up before football games and would often hang out at a tattoo parlor and make a pest of himself by talking to customers about music. “We may never know a motive for this, unless he left a note,” Sgt. Brent Mull said.
Also killed were Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23; and Jeff Thompson, 40. Two others were hospitalized after the shooting. The nature of their injuries was not disclosed.
The guitarist’s brother, Vinnie Paul Abbott, the drummer for Damageplan, was rushed to safety offstage and tearfully tried to learn his brother’s fate from officers who couldn’t even tell him which hospital he was taken to.
With his frenetic, ear-splitting guitar riffs, Dimebag Abbott created an aggressive sound for Pantera and attracted a cult following in the early 1990s.