Heavy metal club rampage still baffles police

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  • COLUMBUS - Police yesterday were investigating why a 25-year-old man opened fire at a heavy metal concert, killing the band's guitarist and three others before a Columbus police officer fatally shot the attacker.

    "We may never know the motive for this, unless he left a note or something else," said Sgt. Brent Mull of the Columbus Police Department.

    Authorities said Nathan Gale is the gunman who killed guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott of the band Damageplan and three others Wednesday night at the Alrosa Villa, a concert hall off I-71 in north Columbus.

    Gale had a male hostage in a headlock and appeared ready to kill him when police Officer James Niggemeyer shot Gale, who died at the scene, Sergeant Mull said. The hostage was not injured, he added.


    "If the officer wasn't as close as he was, I think this would have been a lot worse," Sergeant Mull said. "It was a chaotic scene, just a horrific scene."

    Police identified the other shooting victims as 23-year-old Nathan Bray, a fan of the band who lived in Grove City, south of Columbus; Erin Halk, a 29-year-old who worked at the club loading equipment and lived in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington; and Jeff Thompson, 40. Mr. Thompson worked for Damageplan and lived in Texas.

    Two other people were hospitalized. One was listed in stable condition at Riverside Hospital and the other was admitted to the intensive care unit. Police did not release their names.

    Gale lived in Marysville, which is about 25 miles northwest of Columbus. Police there said he had been pulled over for driving with a suspended license last month.


    Witnesses said Gale, 25, charged onto the stage shortly after Damageplan began its first song and fired five or six shots from a handgun at Mr. Abbott. Police said the first 911 call came in at 10:18 p.m.

    "At the time, you couldn't tell it was a gunshot; the music was so loud, but it became obvious this guy was here to kill somebody," said Greg Minor, a 29-year-old Columbus resident.

    To honor Mr. Abbott, Mr. Minor yesterday left flowers outside Alrosa Villa, where heavy metal bands have played since its opening in 1974.

    "This was somebody's bad way of making a statement," he said.

    Mr. Minor said he recently bought his first Damageplan compact disc and was a long-time fan of Pantera, a popular heavy metal band that broke up in the 1990s. Mr. Abbott, 38, and his brother, Vinnie Paul Abbott, used to be in that group.

    Some witnesses told police they heard a man yell at members of Damageplan that they had broken up Pantera.

    Police said it was unclear whether Gale or someone else made those comments, although Sergeant Mull said detectives had heard from some people at the concert that Damageplan band members had received threats. He said he did not have details.

    About 400 people were at the concert as the gunman fired into the audience, authorities said.

    Matt Baessler, 24, said he was standing on the edge of the club's mosh pit. About 30 seconds into Damageplan's first song, someone ran onto the stage in pursuit of Mr. Abbott.

    "Two security guys came on stage. There was a commotion and it looked like something set up to create a drama or a hoax. It looked pretty violent and I heard the pops go off, but it was muffled. We thought it was part of the set," he said.

    Mr. Baessler said he ran after he saw a man with a six to eight-inch trail of blood on the front of his white shirt.

    "He was a fan on the floor, and he was stumbling away from where the shot came," said Mr. Baessler, who lives in the Columbus suburb of Dublin and is pursuing a graduate degree at Ashland University.

    Officer Niggemeyer, 31, rushed into the club and less than a minute later, after seeing one person dead, he shot Gale as the hostage moved away.

    Sergeant Mull said some nightclubs have metal detectors, but the Alrosa Villa does not. When asked if the club had enough bouncers and security, he replied: "Hindsight is 20-20.''

    Jeremy Spencer, 16, said the club usually has several security guards, but he didn't see many Wednesday night.

    Sergeant Mull said no off-duty police officers were working at the club when the shooting occurred.

    Police used three city buses to interview witnesses, with about 60 detectives taking statements.

    Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he was "shocked and dismayed with the large number of shootings.'' He said a grand jury reviews all shootings involving on-duty police officers.

    Damageplan was scheduled to perform last night at the Machine Shop, a club in Flint, Mich. The club closed to honor Mr. Abbott.

    Kevin Zink, the club's co-owner, said Mr. Abbott's death was "absolutely terrible.''

    "Dimebag was one of the friendliest guys I've ever met. He was the first off the tour bus to come in and hang out during the day. He would stay and sign autographs until every fan was happy," Mr. Zink said.

    Mr. Zink said he hoped that people wouldn't blame heavy metal for the violence.

    ''People walk into church and shoot people. The guy who did this is gone. No one will ever know unless he left a note somewhere. If he is a super-fan, the police will know it," he said.

    Gale played on the Lima Thunder, a semi-pro football team.

    Coach Mark Green said Gale was a backup offensive guard who started the last few games of this year's season because of injuries to other players.

    Mr. Green said Gale worked at a factory in Marysville and he saw him last Tuesday.

    Gale bought a car from Mr. Green and showed up to make the latest payment.

    "He said, 'See you next Tuesday, coach,'‚óŹ" said Mr. Green, 36.

    Gale was about 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, and liked to listen to heavy metal CDs with earphones on the team bus to get himself fired up for the games.

    But Mr. Green said he saw no signs that Mr. Gale would do something like what happened Wednesday night.

    "He was a quiet guy. I knew he listened to heavy metal, but ... he didn't act like he was a crazy guy,'' Mr. Green said.

    Jeff Sammons, the team's owner and its quarterback, said Gale never missed a game or a practice.

    "He gave us no clue he would be capable of doing something like that, which is why it was such a shock," he said.

    Contact James Drew at:

    jdrew@theblade.com or