COLUMBUS, Ohio – A small memorial started by a handful of fans blossomed into an outpouring of grief and celebration Thursday, less than 24 hours after the shocking slayings at the Alrosa Villa club where Pantera/ Damageplan guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three others were killed.
Despite the rain and cold temperature, hundreds of fans gathered outside the weathered metal club to pay homage to their hero. They erected makeshift crosses, laid yellow roses in honor of Abbott’s Texas roots and burned candles in his honor, but mostly they shared stories, asked each other why anyone would do such a thing and, perhaps most importantly, they blasted Pantera’s cathartic tunes and shouted their lungs out.
Early in the day, during a steady downpour, fans trickled by and propped tributes to Abbott on a large rock at the entrance to the club’s parking lot. A six-pack of Heineken shared space with a rain-spattered copy of Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven CD, a handful of guitar picks and large Budweiser can that bore the taped-on message “From Joshua Ramey, Diamond Daryl Boggs and Danny ‘Party Boy’ Jenkins – Never stop rocking and kicking f–ing ass. RIP, brother.” In the distance, the venue’s marquee still showed Damageplan’s name.
Dozens of satellite news trucks packed a lot across the street from the venue, though the day’s only news was the confirmation of the names of the dead. The questions surrounding why 25-year-old Nathan Gale killed Abbott and three others remained unanswered.
One of the first groups to arrive to pay their respects included longtime fan Terry Kyees, 40. “We were at the Ministry concert backstage with [singer] Al [Jourgensen] when someone came back to give him the news,” said Kyees, who was sporting a weathered Pantera T-shirt and a pentagram necklace with matching ring. “He was pretty shook up. This is just a major loss to rock and roll. Dimebag was a shot in the vein to metal. You turn Cowboys From Hell on and turn that up in your car and go off bangin’ your head… it’s just freedom… life. I mean, it’s always the good guitarists that die young.”
Standing with Kyees were Chris Lerchliter and her son, 15-year-old Brandon, wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, his eyeliner beginning to run. “This summer Brandon bodysurfed all the way to the front row and high-fived Dimebag,” she said proudly. “It was a real turn-on.”
By 7 p.m., more than 100 fans had gathered in the parking lot, holding candles, drinking beers, smoking cigarettes and laying objects on the growing tribute rock: pictures of Abbott, candles, beer cans, packs of smokes, Pantera T-shirts, dozens more bouquets of yellow flowers and a Christmas ornament in the shape of a guitar with several pictures of Abbott above a homemade sign that read, “Dimebag, thank you for many years of entertainment, influence, inspiration and pure musical genius. May your legacy live forever.”
After paying her respects at the rock, a teary-eyed April Webb, 22, slowly walked away from the growing throng, which – with the occasional whiff of weed mixed with cigarette smoke and beer – smelled a lot like a rock show. “He was a true entrepreneur of that electric guitar, man. He could do things with it that nobody else could think of,” said Webb, whose brief brush with Abbott occurred when she was almost hit by Dimebag’s golf cart backstage at Ozzfest in 2000. “Their music was just a release. That’s all.”
An impromptu jam session broke out when one fan played some Pantera songs (“This Love,” “Cemetery Gates”) on his acoustic guitar, joined on the choruses by a number of those in the crowd. The mellow sounds of the acoustic were soon replaced by thumping kick drums and growling vocals as two mourners cranked Pantera tunes on their car stereos.
As the crowd swelled to several hundred fans, a male streaker sprinted across the road shouting, “F– Nathan Gale!” over and over as police chased him in circles, finally tackling and handcuffing him.
Ryan Melchiorre, 21, whose band, Flat Line, is headlining the Alrosa in January, was working security at the club Wednesday night. “I got here five minutes before the shooting and was helping with the barricades, and Dimebag was rocking out and then all of a sudden I watched the first blast go off and people rushed the stage because they thought it was part of the show,” said Melchiorre, who helped usher in the police officer who shot Gale. Though part of him wanted to try to help Abbott, Melchiorre said he instinctively started ushering fans out as soon as he saw the blood on the stage.
“He just played from his soul and his heart, he loved his fans,” said Melchiorre, who had come to the club hoping to meet Dimebag and Vinnie Paul, Dimebag’s brother and bandmate. “This has given heavy music a bad name. Hip-hop has taken a bad rap for a while because of the Tupac and Biggie situation, and we’ll probably get hit hard for the Dimebag situation.”
Matt Shipp, 22, will also never forget what he saw Wednesday night. “I witnessed the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “I turned around and Dime looked at me, he was holding up the horns. I turned around, heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’ turned around again and looked at the stage and no one was there – just a cloud of smoke.”
In addition to hundreds of young fans, the vigil brought out a number of families, several with small children, and at least one who had a close tie to the shocking event.
Drummer Todd Henson, 16, opened Wednesday night’s show with his band, 12 Gauge. “He was so approachable. He talked to you like he’d known you for years,” Henson said of Abbott, whom he’d met earlier in the year at a local radio-sponsored concert. Henson was three rows back in the pit when the shooting occurred, and as soon as he saw Gale wave his gun in the air, he ran for the exit.
Terry Henson, who has played the Alrosa more than 100 times with his bands over the years, came to see his son play earlier in the night and was relieved when he got the call at 10:15 p.m. and learned that Todd was OK. “I’m concerned now [about violence at rock shows], but I’m hoping it’s an isolated incident. One of the saddest things for us as a family is that Todd finally got to play for his idol [Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul] and he did the most awesome gig I’ve ever heard his band do, and to have such a high as that and an hour later to have such a downer… that’s why I’m here tonight to have closure for him.”
The crowd had dwindled to less than 100 after 10 p.m., and as 10:18 – the 24-hour mark – approached, fans grew quiet. By midnight, a single fan remained, silently bobbing his head to the Pantera album blaring from his stereo. Behind him, where the memorial had stood just hours ago, was a smoldering pile of ashes on top of the rock, now spray-painted with the word “Dime.” A smaller remembrance with a Pantera banner, an American flag and a few flowers remained, and beyond it the Alrosa’s marquee was now eerily empty.