COLUMBUS, Ohio — A shouting gunman who leapt onstage at a nightclub Wednesday killed rock guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three other persons before a police officer fatally shot the 25-year-old assailant, authorities said yesterday.
Witnesses said the pistol-wielding man, identified as Nathan Gale of suburban Marysville, fired at least five shots at point-blank range at Mr. Abbott, 38-year-old lead guitarist for the heavy-metal band Damageplan.
Some witnesses said Gale shouted that Mr. Abbott was to blame for the bitter 2003 breakup of Pantera, the band the Texas guitarist led to Grammy-winning success in the 1990s.
After fatally shooting three others at the 641-seat Alrosa Villa nightclub, Gale was brandishing his pistol and holding a hostage in a headlock when he was confronted by a Columbus policeman, a department spokesman said.
Officer James D. Niggemeyer opened fire with his shotgun, killing Gale and likely preventing the deadly rampage from being “a lot worse,” Sgt. Brent Mull of the Columbus Police Department said.
Some fans and music industry insiders compared the shooting of Mr. Abbott to a deranged fan’s murder of former Beatle John Lennon on a New York street exactly 24 years ago.
“I can’t think of anything like this ever happening,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar magazine, a concert industry trade publication. “It is one of those freak things. Dimebag didn’t do anything to deserve this any more than Lennon.”
Mr. Abbott’s new band, Damageplan, had just begun its show Wednesday at the nightclub when witnesses said Gale jumped onto the stage.
The tall, heavyset man reportedly was discharged from the Marines last year and was an offensive lineman for the Lima Thunder, a semi-pro football team in northwest Ohio.
“I figured it was another fan wanting to jump off the stage and crowd surf,” said Brian Kozicki, the club’s lighting designer. Other Alrosa Villa employees said Gale had scaled a security fence outside the club and entered without paying.
Some witnesses said Gale shouted, “You broke up Pantera,” before repeatedly shooting Mr. Abbott in the head. He then began firing into the crowd. Police said about 250 customers were in the club for the $8 all-ages event headlined by Damageplan, which released its first album, “New Found Power,” in February.
Also killed were club employee Erin Halk, 29; fan Nathan Bray, 23; and Jeff Thompson, 40, a security guard for the band. Two other persons injured in the attack were being treated yesterday at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, officials said.
The gunman’s motives remain a mystery, although an acquaintance said he had argued with Gale shortly before Wednesday’s show.
“Last night was actually the first time I noticed his temper,” said Bo Toler, an artist at the Bears Den Tattoo Studio in Marysville. Gale liked to hang out at the studio, pestering employees and customers with “pointless conversations” about rock music, Bears Den manager Lucas Bender said.
Gale wanted the studio to order tattoo equipment for him, and when Mr. Toler said no, Gale got angry and started yelling. “After the argument we had, he kind of walked out with an attitude. He didn’t even say goodbye,” Mr. Toler said.
“We may never know the motive for this, unless he left a note or something,” Sgt. Mull said.
The shooting was a shock to fans — and to fellow members of Damageplan, including Mr. Abbott’s brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, who was also a founding member of Pantera.
“The one thing that stands out in my mind was I could see Vinnie stand up from behind the drums and look down,” Mindy Reece, 28, told Rolling Stone magazine. “He had this look on his face like, ‘Oh my … God.’ ”
Miss Reece, a nurse who had been a Pantera fan since she was 13, said she and another fan performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Mr. Abbott. “I kept saying, ‘Dimebag, come on, come on please. Stay with me,’ ” she told Rolling Stone. “It was bad. … There was blood on the floor.”
Deadly violence at rock concerts has often made headlines over the years. A fan was fatally stabbed during a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, Calif., in 1969. In 1979, 11 fans were trampled to death in a stampede at a concert by The Who.
Providing security at club concerts is problematic, Mr. Bongiovanni said. “There is difficulty having a metal detector at the door of a heavy-metal show because so many in the crowd are wearing studs and things like that, which are part of the heavy-metal dress,” he said.
Mr. Abbott was a savvy entrepreneur as well as massively popular on the metal scene. In the mid-1990s, he became part owner of the Clubhouse, a Dallas strip club frequented by rock celebrities.
He and his brother also operated several small partnerships and corporations. Mr. Abbott had recently started Getchapull Inc., to market his own personal clothing items.
“Darrell was a terrific guy and a smart businessman,” said Jeff Rasco, a Burleson, Texas, accountant for Mr. Abbott. “He was humble, and he would go out of his way to look out for his fans and friends.”
Staff writer Steve Miller contributed to this report in Washington.