DIMEBAG's Murder: Witnesses Describe Grisly Details Of Gunman's Attack

December 10, 2004

John Futty, Evan Goodenow and Aaron Beck of The Columbus Dispatch have issued the following report:

Shortly before DAMAGEPLAN took the stage at the Alrosa Villa, a man approached the band's bus behind the North Side nightclub.

He wanted to know if lead guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, were onboard.

Aaron Barns, the heavy-metal group's sound man, told him the brothers had already gone in the club.

"The next time I see him, he's walking behind the bass player and singer right over to Dime," Barns said yesterday.

As the band played its opening song Wednesday night, the man rushed across the stage and grabbed Darrell Abbott, firing several shots into his head from a Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic handgun.

The gunman, identified yesterday as Nathan Gale, killed three other people and wounded two before Columbus Police Officer James D. Niggemeyer entered the rear of the club shortly after 10:20 p.m.

Carrying a Remington 870, a 12-gauge shotgun, the officer circled a stack of amplifiers and saw Gale, who was at the back of the stage holding a gun to a man's head.

From 20 feet away, Niggemeyer killed Gale with a single shotgun blast.

His decision to enter the club without waiting for fellow police officers to arrive saved lives, many said.

"All of the officers have been trained since the Columbine incident that, if there's shooting going on, to go in and put the pressure on the shooter," Niggemeyer's supervisor, Sgt. Jeff Leesbug, said last night.

In addition to the band's guitarist, those whom Gale killed were Nathan Bray, a 23-year-old fan from Grove City; Erin A. Halk, a 29-year-old Northwest Side man who worked security at the club; and Jeff "Mayhem" Thompson, a 40-year-old crew member from Waxahachie, Texas.

Wounded in the shooting were Chris Paluska, the band's tour manager, and John Brooks, a drum technician. Both were in Riverside Methodist Hospital last night, where Paluska was in serious condition and Brooks was in good condition.

Many in the crowd of more than 400 heavymetal enthusiasts thought Gale was a crew member, a part of the act or an exuberant fan.

"He didn't pull out the gun until he got to Dimebag," said Brian Kozicki, the club's lighting director, who watched from the sound booth.

People who had known the 25-year-old Gale in his hometown of Marysville described him yesterday as an unstable man who once asserted that the Abbott brothers' former band, PANTERA, had stolen his song lyrics.

Some witnesses said Gale fired at Vinnie Paul Abbott but missed and then fired at those who attempted to subdue him. "He probably wouldn't have shot anyone else if other people hadn't tried to stop him," Barns said.

Mitch Carpenter, an Alrosa security guard working in the parking lot, said he encountered Gale before the concert and asked him to "park his car and buy a ticket or leave." Gale parked behind the building near the band's bus and was asked to move his car, which he did.

The next time Carpenter saw Gale, he was in the club.

"He had hopped the fence at the patio," Carpenter said. "He was walking really fast toward the stage and I followed him.

"I thought he was going to get up there and stage dive or something during the first song. I figured he was just a guy who didn't have any money to buy a ticket so he got in the way he did.

"I've been going over it in my mind, but when he came in I didn't want to tackle him. He was a big guy."

Alrosa owner Rick Cautela was tending bar when he heard the shots during the band's opening song, "New Found Power". He thought they were firecrackers.

"I heard the music stop and heard more pops. I figured the band had stopped and was going to start again when they grabbed whoever had the firecrackers," he said of security workers. "I just kept waiting on customers."

But then audience members ran toward the exits.

The panic and confusion can be heard in 10 calls made to 911 operators, beginning at 10:18 p.m., seconds after the first shots were fired.

"I'm at the Alrosa Villa and there's a shooting. Someone is shooting the band on the stage," said a female caller.

"They're still shooting. The person is still loose with the gun."

Kozicki said he took cover in the sound booth and dialed 911 as soon as Darrell Abbott slumped to the floor. He remained on the line with an operator for five minutes, offering details about the chaos and the gunman's actions.

A little more than three minutes after his call to 911 began, he told the operator that police had killed the gunman.

Kozicki, a student at Bowling Green State University, called the officer's action "100 percent in the right."

"If he hadn't done it, more people probably would have been killed," he said yesterday.

Niggemeyer had just begun his shift at the 18 th precinct, at Karl and Morse roads — about 2 miles from Alrosa — when the report of a shooting came in. When he arrived at the club about two minutes later, security workers pointed him to the back door.

At least five other officers came through another door of the club seconds after Niggemeyer fired. Ultimately, about 60 detectives were at the club, many working overtime. They interviewed about 250 witnesses, putting them on three buses provided by COTA.

This is the first time the 31-year-old Niggemeyer, who joined the force in 1999, has shot a suspect. He has a clean record, with many compliments from citizens, said Sgt. Brent Mull, a police spokesman. The division would not release his personnel file yesterday.

Band members spent Wednesday night on their bus then went back to Texas, where they're based.

"Vinnie crashed in Dime's bunk and was crying," Barns said.

Fans of the band created two memorials in front of the club yesterday. Flowers and a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale were among the items on a large rock beside the club's driveway. A wooden cross with the phrase In memory of the lives lost: RIP December 8th written on it was leaning against a pole.

David Moran, a 29-year-old fan from German Village, was among those who placed bouquets of flowers on the rock.

He wrote "RIP Dimebag" on the wrapper.

"He was one of the best guitar players out there," Moran said. "The music world lost one of its greats."

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