15 Years Ago: Dimebag Darrell Killed Onstage
The heavy metal community is no stranger to occasionally tragic incidents, be they accidental overdoses, tour bus crashes or in-concert audience mishaps. It’s safe to say, however, that little has felt as shocking as the senseless onstage murder of Dimebag Darrell on Dec. 8, 2004.
Darrell Abbott, 38, and his older brother Vinnie Paul were just getting used to life after Pantera -- the band they had founded back in 1981 and guided, through both the lean ‘80s glam metal years and bountiful groove metal ‘90s, until becoming one of the world’s most successful and beloved heavy metal giants.
Along the way, Abbott had established himself as one of metal’s all-time greatest guitar heroes, thanks to his distinctive, instantly recognizable rhythm guitar tone and absolutely blistering lead guitar technique -- a devastating combination the likes of which is rarely seen more than once in a generation, or career lasting two entire decades.
For the second, very prosperous half of that career span, however, Pantera had of course been fronted by the equally talented and volatile singer, Phillip Anselmo, whose strong opinions had contributed to the band’s eventual, acrimonious dissolution in 2003. There followed a lot of unnecessary mud-slinging in the press which pitted band members, their new respective musical projects and even fans against each other in a raging war of words that benefitted no one.
All of that only seemed to escalate as the Abbott brothers unveiled their new group, Damageplan. By February 2004, the new quartet, which also featured vocalist Patrick Lachman and touring bassist Bob Zilla, had delivered a promising debut album, New Found Power, and set out on the concert trail for on their Devastation Across the Nation tour. Beginning in late October, the quartet blazed across the U.S. before arriving, 32 shows later, at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio, where an unimaginable tragedy awaited.
A mentally deranged former U.S. Marine named Nathan Gale reportedly first attempted to board the Damageplan tour bus before the show, but had no success. Next, within moments of the start of Dimebag’s set, the heavily armed gunman stormed the stage and ruthlessly gunned down the guitarist at point-blank range.
In the confusion that followed, Gale also shot and killed Damageplan security head Jeffery Thompson and Alrosa Village staff member Erin Halk -- both of whom struggled with Gale long enough for the other musicians and countless innocent concertgoers to escape. Also killed was Nathan Bray, a fan who heroically attempted to give Dimebag CPR and paid an awful price as a result.
Gale’s shooting spree injured Damageplan tour manager Chris Paluska and drum tech John Brooks, but further bloodshed was miraculously averted by the quick actions of police officer James Niggemeyer, who killed Gale with a single shotgun blast while the assailant still held another man hostage.
A few terrifying minutes had robbed the world of one of heavy metal’s most gifted guitarists, leaving traumatized bandmates, family and fans in stunned disbelief. An awe-inspiring display of posthumous tributes poured in and, a decade later, the only measure of comfort -- if one can call it that -- can be found in celebrating Dimebag Darrell’s memory and musical legacy. Every thunderous riff and frenetic lead run from Dimebag's short but inspiring lifetime continues to motivate modern-day guitar heroes and everyday heavy metal fans alike.
Gale's motives, meanwhile, remain unclear. Some witnesses said he shouted, “You broke up Pantera.” Others said they couldn't make out what he said, and by then the shooting had begun. Anselmo has since said he's open to a partial reunion with Pantera, but Vinnie Paul has steadfastly refused.