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    Pantera's Dimebag Shot Dead

    Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was shot and killed Wednesday night in a bizarre rampage during a club gig in Columbus, Ohio, that left four other people dead, including the gunman.

    According to Columbus PD spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio, the shooting spree began shortly after the headbanger's new band, Damageplan, launched into its set at a nightspot called Alrosa Villa.

    The assailant, identified as 25-year-old Nathan Gale of nearby Marysville, charged the stage, taking aim at Abbott with a silver pistol. After shooting the musician--known as "Dimebag" or "Dime" by fans--several times at point-blank range, he then began firing into the crowd before a police officer arriving on the scene shot Gale to death.

    Also among the dead were two fans, Nathan Bray and Erin Halk. Authorities have not yet released the identity of the fifth victim pending notification of next of kin nor the seven others who were wounded in the attack, some of whom remain in critical condition.

    Pantera's Website, www.pantera.com, which has been inundated with traffic since news of the shooting got out, initially announced that Abbott's brother, Damageplan drummer Vinne Paul Abbott, was also shot, but Mercurio denied that report.

    Mercurio says that a uniformed officer was patrolling the area and responded to a call at 10:18 p.m. that there was a shooting at the nightclub. A second call quickly followed, saying there was a homicide and a hostage situation.

    The officer, whose name is being withheld at the moment, went in the club through the backdoor, where he saw one person lying dead on the stage and Gale allegedly holding another person in a headlock.

    "He then engaged the suspect on stage, shooting and killing him," said Mercurio, adding that eyewitnesses said afterward that, "if not for the officer's quick response, the situation could have been a lot worse."

    One concertgoer close to the stage when the shooting occurred told the Associated Press that he witnessed a heavyset man in a hooded sweatshirt, trailed by a bouncer and club employee, leap onstage and begin yelling at Abbott before unloading on the 38-year-old heavy-metal pioneer. After taking out Abbott, Gale then shot the bouncer who tried to tackle him, sparking mayhem in the venue.

    As the crowd of 500 began scattering for the exits, Mercurio said Gale fired at members of the band and then turned his gun on the audience. Police have yet to determine a motive for the shooting.

    Police roped off the area and brought in three city-owned buses to shelter some 60 eyewitnesses while being questioned. Mercurio could not confirm whether there were metal detectors at the club. Reps for Alrosa Villa could not be reached for comment.

    Another audience member, Gerald Caudill, who was near the moshpit, said the gunman shot Abbott at least four times.

    "I was up close to the stage and I just saw some guy run up on the side of the stage and I heard some shots and I saw [drummer] Vinnie Paul and somebody jumped on top of Vinnie, and the guy just stayed around the stage and started shooting other people," Caudill local TV station WSYX.

    "I saw wounded people all over the place, out in the parking lot, inside," he added. "It just didn't sound like gunshots or anything, it didn't occur to me that something like that was happening."

    Word of Dimebag's death had his metal cohorts in a state of shock Thursday, among them Killswitch Engage frontman and former Damageplan tour partner, Howard Jones.

    "This is insane and this is beyond travesty," Jones told MTV. "This is beyond anything I've ever heard. This shouldn't happen in or outside of the rock and metal community. He will be missed and mourned as a person, as a musician, and as a friend."

    Tom Calderone, the music network's executive vice president, added: "When you think of '90s heavy metal or hard rock, Pantera is one of these seminal bands. They are quoted today as influences by many bands. Hard rock has lost a legendary guitar player."

    Distraught metalheads flooded Pantera's Website with messages of condolence.

    "This is the worst day in metal history," read one post.

    Darrell Abbott was born Aug. 20, 1966, the son of country songwriter Jerry Abbott. The guitarist took up rock 'n' roll, where his influences included KISS' Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen. Abbott and older brother Vinne formed Pantera in 1983.

    The Dallas-based band raged for the next two decades, releasing such notable albums as Cowboys from Hell (1990), Vulgar Display of Power (1992) and Far Beyond Driven (1994), and even scoring a Grammy nomination, before calling it quits in 2003.

    The Abbotts went on to found Damageplan, whose debut album, New Found Power, featuring appearances by Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor and Ozzy Osbourne sidekick Zakk Wylde, was released in February and cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard charts.

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