The Columbus, Ohio, detectives investigating the slaying of Damageplan guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott may never learn what inspired Nathan Gale’s murderous rampage on December 8, 2004 (see “Dimebag Darrell, Four Others Killed In Ohio Concert Shooting” ).
But according to a report in The Columbus Dispatch, after months of working on the case and 287 eyewitness interviews, investigators have dismissed one common theory: that the shootings were motivated by the breakup of Pantera, Abbott’s former band, or a public dispute between Abbott and Pantera lead singer Phil Anselmo.
The Dispatch — which obtained the 627-page investigative file on the case Wednesday — quotes a document in which Detective William Gillette wrote, “There is no evidence leading detectives to believe Nathan Gale was communicating with Phil Anselmo or any other individual … in an effort to hurt Dimebag Darrell Abbott” (see “Dimebag Darrell’s Brother May Soon Perform Again; Anselmo Looks To Make Peace” ).
The documents further reveal that police searched Gale’s apartment in the wake of the shooting and found no “computers or magazines or compact discs” connected with either Damageplan or Pantera, according to the Dispatch. However, a Damageplan CD was found in the player of Gale’s Pontiac Grand Am, which he drove to the concert.
Investigators had hoped the interviews — conducted with members of Damageplan and the band’s crew, concertgoers, club employees, police officers and emergency personnel — would clarify details about the shooting, including the order in which Gale’s victims were shot. That issue remains clouded, but the accounts do provide a clearer portrait of what happened at the club that evening before Officer James Niggemeyer’s arrival on the scene (see “Officer In Damageplan Shooting: ‘I Was Hoping He’d Let The Hostage Go’ “ and “Videotape Of Chaos During ‘Dimebag’ Darrell’s Shooting Released” ).
While some of the witnesses contend Gale produced the gun after stepping onto the stage and targeted Dimebag first, Damageplan’s tour manager, Christopher Paluska, told police that he was shot first, while trying to prevent Gale from taking the stage. “Mr. Paluska related he grabbed the guy and this individual turned around and shot him,” according to police documents. “After doing this, Paluska ran to the side of the stage, where someone helped him lie down and he watched as Dimebag Darrell Abbott … got shot by the shooter.”
Stage technician John Brooks — who, along with Paluska, was one of three who survived being shot — told police he was standing behind speakers at the right side of the stage and watched Gale make a beeline for Abbott. He further claimed that Gale first shot Dimebag, then the band’s head of security, Jeffrey “Mayhem” Thompson, who’d rushed to the guitarist’s aid. Thompson died from three gunshot wounds.
Brooks, who was shot three times during a struggle with Gale, recalled being overpowered and later used as a hostage. “Don’t move, don’t move!” Gale yelled at Brooks, who was pinned to the ground and said he could feel the gun pressed against his head. Brooks told police he “thought the gunman was going to shoot him in the head.”
The third survivor, a fan named Travis Burnett, told detectives he scaled the stage and challenged Gale. The gunman told him to “Get the f— out of here,” but according to the Dispatch report, Burnett attempted to put Gale in “a wristlock” when the gun fired, nicking his left forearm. Burnett retreated and immediately “heard three more gunshots that he believed were aimed at his head.”
The members of Damageplan told police they saw very little beyond Dimebag’s murder. Bassist Robert “Zilla” Kakaha “looked over toward Dimebag, and the suspect looked like he was hugging him, then turned to the side, and that’s when he saw the gun aimed at his head.” Kakaha fled through the club’s rear exit. Dimebag’s brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, took cover behind onstage amplifiers after the guitarist was killed. Gale walked right past frontman Patrick Lachman, who said he didn’t realize what was happening until he heard gunshots. Lachman then ran offstage, yelling for someone to call 911.
The report also reveals details about Gale’s method of entry into the club: He scaled a wooden fence surrounding the venue’s outdoor patio, witnesses reported, and his intrusion was encouraged by several concertgoers, who eventually helped the gunman sneak inside. Gale then walked past a security guard, who tried to prevent him from entering the club without a ticket.