A gunman charged onstage at a packed nightclub and opened fire on the band and crowd, killing top heavy metal guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and three other people before a police officer shot him to death, authorities and witnesses said.
Police spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio identified three of the victims of Wednesday's shooting as Abbott, who played for the Texas-based band Damageplan, and two other men, Nathan Bray, 23; and Erin Halk, 29.
She identified the gunman as Nathan Gale, 25, of Marysville, 25 miles northwest of Columbus. She said there was no information on a motive or any connection to the band.
Damageplan had just begun its first song at Alrosa Villa club when the man shot Abbott five or six times at point-blank range, a witness said.
Abbott, 38, one of metal's top guitarists, and his brother, Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, were members of Pantera, the Grammy-nominated thrash-rock pioneer that enjoyed wide popularity in the early 1990s.
The witness, 22-year-old Chris Couch, said he was standing about 30 feet from the stage when he saw a man wearing a hooded sweat shirt walk up to the stage, followed by a bouncer and another club employee.
The man in the sweat shirt climbed onto the stage, started yelling and opened fire on the guitarist, then shot a bouncer who pulled him off the musician, Couch said.
Police spokesman Sgt. Brent Mull said that after shooting at band members, the gunman fired into the crowd. The gunman was shot and killed by patrol officer James D. Niggemeyer, who arrived shortly after the shooting began, police said.
"If the officer wasn't as close as he was, I think this would have been a lot worse," Mull said. "It was a chaotic scene, just a horrific scene."
Mercurio said Niggemeyer, 31, was patrolling nearby when he heard the call about the shooting. He entered the club through a back door and was directed to the stage, where he saw one person lying dead and the suspect holding onto another person, Mercurio said. His deadly shot probably saved other lives, Mercurio said.
The name of the fifth person killed was not immediately released. Mercurio said family members were still being notified.
Thursday morning, a dozen yellow roses, still in plastic wrap, lay near the entry to the low-slung beige building that since 1974 has hosted mostly heavy metal acts. The 641-person-capacity club, just off a freeway exit on the city's north side, sits amid motels, small businesses and office complexes.
After the shooting began, Couch and a friend headed for the exit along with a tide of hundreds of fans.
"It was definitely a grudge. It was against something," Couch said.
Amanda Stankus, 19, who attended the show with Couch, said she initially thought the shooting was part of the show. "I just saw the guitarist fall down, and we decided to get out of there," she said.
The Abbott brothers produced Damageplan's debut album, "New Found Power," which was released in February. Other band members are vocalist Patrick Lachman and bassist Bob Zilla.
"Damageplan carries on the tradition Pantera started, the ... hell-raising tradition we were all about," Vinnie Paul Abbott told The Dallas Morning News in October. "We do play some Pantera songs. Me and Dime wrote them, and we feel like we have the right to play them. But the focus is on Damageplan.
"It took awhile for some of the Pantera fans to accept it; we knew that was gonna be the case," he said. "Change is something that people have a hard time accepting. But me and Dime intended on doing this our whole lives."
A message left with Atlantic Records Group, which oversees Damageplan's label Elektra, was not immediately returned.
Damageplan's Web site said Darrel and Vinnie Abbott grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where their father, country songwriter Jerry Abbott, owned a recording studio.
Telephone numbers for Darrell and Jerry Abbott are unlisted and could not be reached early Thursday by The Associated Press.
Pantera, known for its fast, aggressive sound, recorded several albums in the 1990s, attracting a massive cult following. The third release, "Far Beyond Driven," debuted at No. 1 in 1994, surprising chart-watchers and critics alike. Other hit albums were "The Great Southern Trendkill" and "Reinventing The Steel." A song by the band became the Dallas Stars hockey team's signature tune in 1999.
Pantera was nominated for Grammies for best metal performance in 1995 for "I'm Broken" and in 2001 for "Revolution Is My Name."
The video "The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys' Vulgar Hits" hit the top 10 for music-video sales earlier this year; another video, "3-Watch It Go," hit the top 10 in 1998.
The shootings came exactly 24 years after John Lennon was shot to death outside his New York apartment building by a deranged fan.
Dozens of messages were posted to the Dallas band's Web site after the shootings.
"This is the worst day in metal history," one posting read.
"The metal world feels your pain," another wrote.
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