COLUMBUS, Ohio – The man who gunned down former Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott during a concert was an obsessed fan of Abbott’s former band and alarmed people with his bizarre behavior, a one-time friend said Friday.
Nathan Gale had told friends that Pantera musicians had stolen lyrics from him and were trying to steal his identity, former friend Dave Johnson said.
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.
Gale once showed up at a friend’s house with songs he said he had written, said Johnson, 27. He wanted to sing the songs with Johnson’s band but one musician said no because the lyrics were copied from Pantera.
“He’d been kind of weird before that so we thought it was another ‘Crazy Nate’ thing,” Johnson said. “That was our nickname for him, ‘Crazy Nate.’ “
Johnson said Gale then calmly said that Pantera had stolen the lyrics from him and he was going to sue the band. He also said the band was trying to steal his identity.
Johnson said Gale was a “hard-core” Pantera fan and “that was all he listened to.”
Johnson said he last saw Gale in their hometown of Marysville, about 25 miles northwest of Columbus, about six months ago. He had distanced himself from Gale by then because of odd behavior that included talking and laughing to himself and once appearing to be holding an imaginary dog, he said.
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.
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 wrote.