As hundreds of heavy-metal fans converge on Columbus, Ohio, to erect a shrine to slain ex-Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott outside the nightclub where he and four others were shot dead Wednesday, police are still trying to puzzle together a motive in the murder.
By Friday, police in the city had interviewed dozens of witnesses to the grisly tragedy that rocked the music world, but investigators had yet to pinpoint exactly why the assailant, 25-year-old Nathan Gale, rushed the stage at the Alrosa Villa club, brandishing a silver pistol, just as Abbott's new band, Damageplan, began its set.
Police and witnesses say Gale shouted at the seminal headbanger then unloaded four or five bullets into Abbot's head at point-blank range. Gale then turned the gun on a bouncer and club employee as they tried to subdue him.
The bouncer, Jeff Thompson, 40, and Alrosa Villa staffer, Erin Halk, 29, were killed, as was audience member Nathan Bray, 23.
Officer James D. Niggemeyer, 31, who responded to the call, was hailed a hero by his department for entering the back of the venue and confronting Gale, who had a hostage in a headlock onstage.
"The officer was able to strategically gun the guy down before he could kill his hostage," Sergeant Brent Mull said at a news conference Thursday. Gale died at the scene.
Two band employees were wounded in the fray and being treated at Riverside Methodist Hospital. Chris Paluska was listed in serious condition Friday, according to a hospital spokeswoman, and John Brooks was in good condition.
Meanwhile, Mull says police have been unable to confirm reports that Gale specifically blamed Abbott for the demise of Pantera--the famed band, cofounded by Abbott, split last year after 20 ear-bleeding years--before firing.
"We may never know a motive for this, unless he left a note," said Mull.
However, interviews with Gale's friends and acquaintances paint a disturbing portrait of a brash ex-Marine, who often made those around him uneasy. Gale was no stranger to the law, either, having been rung up for minor offenses dating back to 1997.
One former friend, Jeramie Brey, told the Columbus Dispatch that Gale once claimed Pantera had stolen lyrics he had written.
"He was off his rocker," Brey told the newspaper. "He said they were his songs, that Pantera stole them from him and that he was going to sue them."
Brey said that, several years ago, Gale also planned to file a lawsuit accusing the metal band of stealing his identity.
The lawsuit never happened; soon after Brey broke off contact with Gale.
The 6-foot, 3-inch Gale served with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Legeune in North Carolina. He was discharged in November 2003 having served less than half his four-year commitment. No reason as to why he was discharged.
Gale also played one season as an offensive lineman for Ohio's semi-pro Lima Thunder football team, but he wasn't viewed as a troublemaker, according to his coach, Mark Green.
"You wouldn't look at him and think he was capable of doing something like this," Green told the Associated Press. "It wasn't like he was a loner."
The outsized Gale also spent time at Bears Den Tattoo Studio in his hometown of Marysville, 25 miles northwest of Columbus. He was there just hours before the shooting spree.
"He comes in here and likes to hang out when he's not wanted," Lucas Bender, the studio's manager, told AP. "The most pointless conversations."
A tattoo artist, Bo Toler, said Gale visited between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and asked about ordering some tattoo equipment. Toler said when he refused Gale's request, Gale erupted. The two had a brief fight before Gale abruptly walked out, according to Toler.
Meanwhile, some 200 hundred fans held a candlelight vigil for the victims in the Alta Rosa parking lot Thursday night, and friends and fellow musicians recalled the slain metal hero as a loving, generous person and gifted guitarist who left an indelible imprint on the thrash-metal scene.
"After Eddie Van Halen, you had Dimebag Darrell," Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian told MTV News. "He was the next guy that came along and did something as original and important on guitar."
"Dime's music gave me so much to live for when I was younger, and he truly changed the face of metal with his unique style of guitar playing," Chimaira frontman Mark Hunter said. "There isn't a metal band I know that hasn't borrowed a riff or three from him."