A lot of fans didn't understand what they were seeing when a man jumped onstage and shot guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday night, with many believing it to be part of the show. But one fan understood immediately, because he was standing just a few feet away.
Having befriended Damageplan drum tech John "Kat" Brooks before the show, 28-year-old Kevin Holycross found himself standing off to the side of the stage as the band began performing. "The beginning of the nightmare," as he called it, started 40 seconds into the first song, when gunman Nathan Gale walked up to the guitarist and "shot him in the side of the head, almost point blank" (see "Dimebag Darrell, Four Others Killed In Ohio Concert Shooting").
The crowd, not registering what happened, continued clapping and screaming, Holycross said, with people leaning over the balconies shouting, "It's a hoax! It's a hoax!" But knowing it wasn't, Brooks began screaming, "What the f---? What the f---?" Holycross said.
Holycross followed Brooks to the side of the stage, where a security guard was trying to subdue Gale and got shot as a result. As the shots continued — one hitting Brooks in the leg — people began to realize what was happening and started screaming, "Call 911!" as they ducked for cover.
In the midst of the chaos, Gale remained calm.
"He wasn't screaming," Holycross said. "Everybody's screaming at him, but I didn't see his mouth move one time. He didn't look like he was flipping out, you know what I mean? You'd expect somebody [who'd do this] to be crazy and jumpy, real sketchy. But he was calm and collected. He wasn't rapidly firing shots, he wasn't back and forth with his gun. He seemed to know his targets."
When Gale ran out of bullets and stopped to reload, people screamed, "He's out, he's out, get him!" Holycross said he and four or five other guys onstage tried to charge the shooter. "We're by the guitar amps, we're on stage right, and he's on stage left behind Dimebag's stack," he said. "And we get about to the drum set when he puts another clip in the gun. It only took a second or two."
Gale then fired two more shots, but they didn't seem directed at anyone in particular, more like warning shots to get away, Holycross said. Two or three police officers were in the venue by then, he said, with the officers on the floor distracting Gale while another came through the back door. The officer who had snuck in behind Gale appeared to place his gun against a bass amp to steady it, Holycross said, and then fired the fatal shot.
Once Gale was down, people tried to give CPR to Abbott, and Holycross tried to get Brooks out the back to get help. Police asked Holycross to give a statement, but he was too upset to do so at the time.
"Imagine being in the coldest place on earth with no clothes on," Holycross said. "I wanted to throw up. I wanted to bawl. I wanted to run and find a gun. To see this guy shot in front of me, one of my idols, it was scary as hell. It was the scariest thing I've ever seen, it was the saddest thing I've ever seen, it was the most horrible thing I've ever seen. I wish I had never seen it."
Afterward, Holycross was struck by the memory of an incident that occurred prior to the show. While standing near the tour bus around 9:30 p.m., he said, he saw Gale and another man come up and ask Brooks if they could party with the band. Holycross said Brooks responded, "They're not partying, they don't party."
"What do you mean they don't party?" Gale responded irately, flipping off the bus as he walked away, staggering.
Holycross said it doesn't exactly explain everything, but he wonders, was Gale drunk or on drugs? Was he looking for an opportunity to shoot Abbott earlier, or did he shoot him because he was denied the opportunity to party with him? Whatever the case, Holycross said he doesn't think it matters, "except for closure."
For fans' reactions, check out "Hundreds Of Fans Gather At Club Honor Dimebag Darrell" and You Tell Us.
For artists' reactions, check out "Ozzy, Dave Mustaine, Jonathan Davis Remember Dimebag".
Click here for more on the tragic death of Dimebag Darrell and the Ohio club shooting.
For much more on Dimebag Darrell's life, music and influence, tune in to a special edition of "Headbangers Ball" premiering Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET on MTV2.
[This story was updated at 2:29 p.m. ET on 12.11.04]