COLUMBUS, Ohio – The man who shot former Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three other men to death at a nightclub was obsessed with the heavy metal band and made bizarre accusations against the group, a one-time friend said.
Nathan Gale apparently believed Pantera musicians were trying to steal his identity and the lyrics to songs he had written, former friend Jeramie Brey told The Columbus Dispatch in Friday’s editions.
Gale, 25, charged the stage Wednesday at a show by Abbott’s new band, Damageplan, and gunned down four people including Abbott before a police officer shot him to death. Two others were wounded.
Investigators said they may never know Gale’s motive. Some witnesses said he yelled accusations that the influential heavy metal guitarist broke up Pantera, but police had not verified those reports.
Brey and former friend Dave Johnson said they had become frightened by Gale’s behavior and distanced themselves from him several years ago. By that time, Johnson said, Gale had begun talking and laughing to himself and once appeared to be holding an imaginary dog.
“He used to be Pantera’s No. 1 fan and has liked them for as long as I’ve known him,” Johnson told the newspaper. “After a while something happened. He just kind of snapped. He went from being a cool guy to being a guy you didn’t want to be around.”
Johnson said he met Gale, known as Nate, in the late 1990s through a mutual friend in their hometown of Marysville, about 25 miles northwest of Columbus. They shared a love of rock music, held jam sessions and attended concerts together.
Brey recalled that Gale once showed up at his house with some songs he had written, but the words appeared to be copied from Pantera. Gale told Brey he planned to sue Pantera over the lyrics and for stealing his identity.
An imposing figure at 6-foot-3, Gale had made people uneasy at a Marysville tattoo parlor, staring and locking them into conversations about heavy metal music.
When he played offensive line for the semi-pro Lima Thunder football team, he psyched himself up before games by piping Pantera music into his headphones, coach Mark Green said.
“He seemed like a normal guy you would meet any other day,” said Anthony Bundy, 20, who lived on the same block as Gale. “He was a keep-to-yourself type of person. He was real quiet.”
Hours before the shootings, Gale got into an argument with a worker at the tattoo studio over some equipment he wanted the studio to order for him. He later angrily walked out of the shop.
The worker, Bo Toler, said he thought Gale had come to the tattoo parlor because he wanted somebody to hang out with. “I just thought he was quiet. I thought he had low-self esteem because of his thick glasses,” Toler said.
Gale had had minor run-ins with police since 1997 but wasn’t considered a troublemaker, authorities said.
He served in the Marines in North Carolina until November 2003, when he was discharged after less than half of the typical four-year stint, Marine spokeswoman Gunnery Sgt. Kristine Scarber said. She declined to explain the discharge, citing privacy rules.
Gale’s mother, Mary Clark, did not return phone messages seeking comment.
The violence at the Alrosa Villa club came just after the opening chords by Texas-based Damageplan, the band formed by Abbott and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, after they left Pantera. Gale dodged two band members, grabbed Darrell Abbott and shot him at least five times in the head, witnesses and police said.
In less than five minutes, Gale had also killed Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23; and band bodyguard Jeff Thompson, 40.
The band’s drum technician, John Brooks, was released from Riverside Hospital on Friday, said Sgt. Mark Allen of hospital security. Tour manager Chris Paluska was in stable condition.
Vinnie Paul Abbott thanked fans for their support in a statement the band released Friday.
“With all his greatness and accomplishments on the guitar, DIME will be missed more for his giving personality, charisma, caring for others, love and most of all his HEART!! Twice as big as the state of TEXAS!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Abbott said.