"Heavy metal is what I'm into. Shit that moves you. Shit that has heart and soul."
It's been 15 years since the tragic death of heavy metal guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Gone at just 38, the bearded guitar player originally from Pantera, had so much potential and seemed destined for greatness in rock 'n roll royalty. But everything was cut short. On December 8, 2004, Dimebag (real name Darrell Abbott) was fatally shot on stage during a performance.
This senseless tragedy shook the rock world to its core. Disbelief. Tears. Anger. News coverage continuing to update. Songs were written in tribute for the fallen Dimebag. It didn't seem real, nightmarish. Who murders a musician during a concert? Why did they do it? Who was capable of such a horrid crime?
The gunman was ex-marine Nathan Gale. He was killed by an officer. Three other victims were killed by Gale.
Nathan Gale seemed like any other 25 year old guy. Standing over 6 feet tall, broad shoulders, the former football player was trying to find his place in the world. He joined the Marines, but was discharged before completing his term. It's never been established why Gale was released from the service, but it's been heavily speculated that he had severe mental health issues.
He loved rock music, obsessed even. Playing Pantera music everyday, Gale was lost in his own world. When Pantera broke up in 2003, Gale's world came crashing down. His favorite band, his voice of reason, the one thing he loved, was over. Friends of Gale said he took the breakup very personally:
"When they broke up, I think he felt some kind of personal connection, like he felt left out or betrayed," said Mark Break, a former friend of Gale. "This kid listened to their albums every day. He was obsessed with Pantera."
It went beyond obsession. Gale claimed Pantera stole his songs. The lyrics he would produce to his friends were clearly Pantera lyrics. His friends didn't know whether he was delusional or if he innocently thought the lyrics were his own. When he wasn't blasting Pantera in his headphones, Gale experimented with cocaine. He wasn't violent, but he scared people. Gale often hung out at a local tattoo shop, asking the tattoo artist where to purchase a tattoo machine. His stoic presence made the customers uncomfortable. His friends would call him "Crazy Nate" for his erratic behavior (petting an imaginary dog at a party, believing God told him to kill Marilyn Manson, rocking back and forth for hours on cocaine binges, talking to himself). Upon being discharged, Gale darkly giggled that he learned how to make explosives.
"He was the last person you want to teach how to blow shit up," friend Ryan Hughes chillingly recounted.
Nathan Gale had by all accounts a normal childhood, showing no signs of what was yet to come. He did have a toxic relationship with his mother in his adulthood. She often kicked him out of the house, yelling obscenities at him. His mother bought him a gun as a present for his short service in the Marines. This was the same gun used in the murders.
Dimebag and brother Vinnie Paul had started a new band, Damageplan. Though they were still new, Pantera fans rejoiced in having new music. Damageplan was set to perform a concert in Columbus, Ohio. It was a cold December night, the club was hot with heavy metal fans. Nathan Gale had been pacing uneasily outside the venue. Clubgoers and staff noticed the strange man walking aimlessly outside in the snow. He didn't want to come in to see the local bands, he wanted to see Damageplan. Once he heard that Damageplan was inside the building, Gale headed in.
Jumping the fence and being chased by security, Gale made his way through the crowd of 400 people. He managed to force his way on stage. Nobody was suspicious at first, some drunk fan trying to stage dive. Damageplan continued on, filling the air with the song "Breathing New Life." Gale aimed his gun at Dimebag and fired. Dimebag was head banging his long hair, he never saw it coming. He was shot five times.
The other band members fled uninjured. Vinnie Paul witnessed his brother's murder. Fans and staff were stupefied. This couldn't be happening. Dimebag couldn't die. Audience member Nathan Bray jumped on stage to try to give Dimebag CPR. He was shot in the chest and died instantly. Club employee Erin Halk and Damageplan security member Jeff "Mayhem" Thompson were also killed trying to stop Gale.
Damageplan drum technician John "Kat" Brooks tried to take down Gale, only to be taken hostage. Police arrived quickly to the scene. Officer James Niggemeyer entered the building through the back door. He shot Gale in the head. Audience members tried giving CPR to Dimebag as well as the other victims, but were unsuccessful.
Why did Nathan Gale kill Dimebag Darrell? Did he blame him for Pantera's breakup? Was he jealous of his fame and success? His motives remain unclear. It's believed Gale had untreated schizophrenia, leading to his discharge. According to online sources, schizophrenia isn't directly related to violence/shootings:
People with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves than be violent toward the public. Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. News and entertainment media tend to link mental illnesses including schizophrenia to criminal violence. Most people with schizophrenia, however, are not violent toward others but are withdrawn and prefer to be left alone. Drug or alcohol abuse raises the risk of violence in people with schizophrenia, particularly if the illness is untreated, but also in people who have no mental illness.
So if it wasn't solely schizophrenia, what led to Gale's reign of terror? Most mass shooters have a history of domestic violence. Though Gale didn't have a history of violence, he had a volatile relationship with his mother (mostly verbal), and was described as "creepy", often making others uncomfortable. Friend Ryan Hughes wasn't surprised by Gale's actions:
"I mean, you knew Nate wasn't gonna stop until he...did something. The music, the football, the military—he wasn't gonna just lay down and not be anybody."
Nathan Gale wanted to be somebody. Mark David Chapman. Eric Harris. Dylan Klebold. Jared Loughlin. What do they have in common? They committed shootings. Nobody knew who they were until the day they pulled the trigger. Notoriety. The world didn't know their names or backgrounds until they unleashed their violent hate. It's become a sinister way of becoming infamous, a figure of violence. They became "someone."
Dimebag's death was seen as the only concert murder until 2016. The Voice finalist Christina Grime was killed by Kevin James Loibl. Christina was signing autographs after a show when Loibl shot her in the head. Christina's brother tackled Loibl to the ground, where he then committed suicide by shooting himself. Christina was only 22.
Loibl's motives remain unknown, but friends had described him as being obsessed with the singer, going great lengths to improve his appearance for her (Christina didn't know him). Fans were shocked and sickened over the event. A petition was started to end gun violence.
Pantera, seeing the similarities in her death with Dimebag's, posted their thoughts:
"We are so sad and disappointed to hear that Christina Grimmie was gunned down the same way that Dimebag Darrell was. After Dime's murder, we all prayed that our industry (i.e. club owners & promoters) would do whatever they needed to do to protect artists from gun wielding fanatics. Sadly, that's not the case and another rising star had to pay the consequences with her life. SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!"
And then a bombing occurred at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, United Kingdom in 2017, killing 22 people (Ariana wasn't hurt). At a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas in 2017, 58 people were killed (Jason wasn't hurt). This remains the deadliest shooting in American history.
What will it take to end gun violence? Concerts should be a safe place to have fun and see your favorite musicians up close. it shouldn't be a war zone. Dimebag and Christina died doing what they loved and others died watching them. It shouldn't be this way. Four concert massacres is too many. I hope one day concerts will be filled with music and not blood. It's important we have the right security measures, knowing safety plans, and that concert venues have a plan in the event of an emergency.
Rest in peace Dimebag, Christina, and the fans and staff who perished from concert violence. I hope someday concerts will be a safe, memorable getaway, not a resting place. <3