DIMEBAG Murderer's Mother Speaks Again: My Son's Killer Is A Hero

December 21, 2004

Chad Williamson of Marysville Journal-Tribune has issued the following report:

On the wall of Mary Clark's apartment in Marysville is a wooden picture frame containing odd-shaped pictures of her three boys' typical pictures of smiling children that a mother would cherish.

Carved above the pictures is the inscription "Children fill our lives with love, laughter, mischief and memories."

Prior to Dec. 8, Clark, a mother of three boys, ages 30, 27 and 25, had plenty of the first two intangibles listed on the frame. On that night, however, the latter two, although painfully understated, stepped into the forefront.

Clark's son, Nathan Gale, 25, who lived at 111 1/2 E. Fifth St., opened fire at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus during a heavy metal concert, killing a nationally-known guitarist and three other individuals before a Columbus police officer ended his life with a single shot.

"I was shocked that my son was gone, but the damage that he did to everyone else," Clark said. "My heart just goes out to them."

Clark is left with lingering doubts about failing to recognize her son's mental illness, the outrage of fans and families on a national level and the guilt of having purchased the gun used in the shootings.

Clark loved her son dearly. She said he was a typical young man for most of his childhood. He was good natured, enjoyed snowboarding and loved sports. He even played semi pro football for the Lima Thunder.

According to his mother, he had many friends, an image that later was reversed.

In his teenage years he had a battle with drugs but had apparently fought through the addiction and was pulling his life together. He had attended Benjamin Logan High School early in high school but later transferred to Marysville and attended the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center.

"I never covered for my children, though I love them deeply," Clark said.

Christmas was a happy time for Clark. Her family was together and the spirit of the holidays was in the air. Her son, Nathan, wearing his endearing thick glasses, was there taking part. He was a funny, peaceful boy, by his mother's account, and took care to help his mother with the holiday traditions. Each year Nathan, a hulk at 6 feet 3 inches and 260 pounds, would help his mother pack away the Christmas tree and decorations because his she was too short to get them into their storage spot.

Recent Christmases had been especially soothing for Clark, because her son was growing into a man. Nathan had turned his life around. He had kicked his drug habit and entered the United States Marine Corps.

"He wanted to do something more with his life," Clark said.

Clark said her son had an interest in target shooting at a Delaware County shooting range. Upon completing basic training in 2002, Nathan received a special Christmas present from his mother — a semi-automatic handgun. She said the present was meant to show her son how proud she was of his accomplishments.

"He was cleaned up," Clark said. "It was a reward for cleaning himself up."

What Clark and others did not know was that Nathan was hearing voices in his head. In 2003 the Marine Corps gave Nathan a medical discharge after diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia.

Clark said she and other family members did not know of her son's problem.

The Marines sent Nathan home with a prescription of pills and little else. Once he returned home, Gale turned into a loner. He was a darker person.

"They (the Marines) said 'we don't have the money to help with this,'" Clark said.

During high school Gale developed an obsession for the heavy metal band PANTERA. Although Clark cannot remember if he ever saw the group perform a concert, Clark said her son did attend live heavy metal performances and took part in "mosh pits," which involve violent masses of bodies running into each other during such concerts. She remembered that during one such event, Gale came home with a black eye.

Though PANTERA split up, Gale remained fixated on its music. He dabbled in music, trying to play guitar but having little success, his mother said. He claimed at one point, prior to his diagnosis, that the band had stolen lyrics from him. He said the ideas in songs by PANTERA, which performed songs titled "Death Trap", "Clash with Reality" and "By Demons be Driven", were his own ideas and experiences.

Beyond that episode, Clark said, Gale never had a bad word to say about the band.

But on the night of Dec. 8, a deeply-hidden secret erupted from within Gale at the Alrosa Villa nightclub.

The group DAMAGEPLAN, comprised of two former members of PANTERA, including guitar legend "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, took the stage that night. Gale was there. A short way into the first song he climbed onto the stage, made his way over to Abbott and shot him repeatedly with the gun that his mother had purchased.

He also used the weapon to kill three other people before Columbus Police Officer James D. Niggemeyer entered the club without backup and killed Gale, who was holding a hostage, with a single shotgun blast.

People across the country have hailed Niggemeyer as a hero. Clark said the man who killed her son is indeed a hero.

"He was doing his job," Clark said. "You don't know how many lives he saved with that shot."

Clark said she has purchased a card and intends to send a note to Niggemeyer.

"That's a horrible thing for him (Niggemeyer) to have to do," Clark said. "He was a hero — I agree with everyone on that."

Memories are all Mary Clark has left of her son.

Because of national media attention and fear of retribution, a private ceremony was held at an undisclosed funeral home after Gale was cremated. Though funerals are supposed to help the survivors deal with grief by accepting the condolences of friends, Clark and her family could not take the risk of opening the doors to the public.

Clark has read of threats against her family on the Internet. And, though the family has no relatives in the city, she knows of a local woman with the last name of Gale who has been threatened repeatedly over the phone.

"The mentality of some people is ridiculous," she said. "They think I should be shot with the same gun."

Clark said she has tried to keep a low profile since the shootings.

Immediately afterward, she packed a bag and stayed at a friend's house to avoid the media spotlight. Her phone rings repeatedly with requests for interviews.

She has tried to avoid local public places because she does not want to attract any attention. Though some locally have offered support and condolences, any attention brings her thoughts back to the events and her son. But even venturing out of town to eat dinner cannot give Clark an escape. Recently over a meal, a group at a nearby table was making jokes about the shooting.

"I know I'll have to hear things but it's not a joking matter," she said. "They don't know who they're sitting next too."

Clark said she intends to get back to work next week and hopes to settle back into a routine.

What stays with Clark is the guilt of having purchased a gun that was used to kill four innocent people. It was a simple token meant as a reward and it was used to end four lives.

"I'll pay for that one day," Clark said.

Since the shootings, Gale has found journals that her son used to keep.

The writings are somewhat free flowing, almost in a stream-of-consciousness manner. Topics are varied but the journals point to Gale's mental illness. He describes an inability to be able to hear his own thoughts.

"He just wanted something to break through to make him normal," Clark said. "I think he was searching for answers just as we are now."

Under the family photos on the picture frame on Clark's wall are a few more words: "Children make a life complete, cherish them forever."

Clark is left with a life that is less than complete. She shoulders some of the blame for the tragedy on Dec. 8 that ended five lives, including the life of one of her children. Through doubts about purchasing the weapon, Clark is left with a deeper regret about failing to recognize her son's mental illness. She said her son kept his struggles a secret.

She said he never confided in her about the voices in his head.

"He kept it very well under control around me," she said. "If he hadn't gone in the Marines, we may never have known."

Clark can't say if her son took the pills prescribed to him by the Marine Corps. She also cannot say if her son relapsed into drug use in the months leading up to the end of his life. Toxicology reports ordered by the police will paint a clearer picture on that issue.

Clark said many of the problems of young adults are filed away as drug addiction, when deeper causes could be the root. She noted that schizophrenia often manifests in the early adult years.

"You just don't blame everything on drugs," Clark said.

What Clark does know is that her son had a problem that wasn't fixed or controlled. She said her son never sought to use the mental health services offered in Union County — services that could have helped him calm the voices in his head.

"We all wonder why you can't help these people before it's too late," she said.

(Thanks: Jason Bodak)

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