COLUMBUS, Ohio - Even at the tattoo parlor, 25-year-old Nathan Gale made people uneasy, staring and locking them into conversations about heavy metal music. But no one pegged the semi-pro football player who psyched himself up before games by piping thrash-rock legends Pantera into his headphones as the type to go on a shooting rampage.
Police say they may never know why Gale charged the stage at a heavy metal show and gunned down four people, including former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, one of metal rock's most revered guitarists.
Some witnesses said Gale began his rampage by yelling out accusations that Abbott broke up Pantera, one of the most popular heavy metal bands of the 1990s. Sgt. Brent Mull said police had not verified those reports.
"We may never know a motive for this, unless he left a note," Mull said.
Abbott, 38, left Pantera with his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, to form the band Damageplan, which had just begun its first song at the club Alrosa Villa on Wednesday night when Gale dodged two band members, grabbed Darrell Abbott and shot him at least five times in the head.
"He grabbed Dimebag with one hand and shot him with the other," said Kevin Minerd, among the 500 people packed into the smoke-filled nightclub to see Abbott's new band.
In less than five minutes, Gale had shot three others, including Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23, of nearby Grove City; and Jeff Thompson, 40, a bodyguard for the band.
Two people employed by the band, Chris Paluska and John Brooks, were in Riverside Hospital on Friday morning with Paluska listed in good condition and Brooks in serious condition.
An imposing figure, Gale was on the offensive line for the semi-pro Lima Thunder in northwest Ohio, coach Mark Green said Thursday. Gale listened to Pantera on headphones before games during his one season with the team, Green said.
"You wouldn't look at him and think he was capable of doing something like this," Green said. "It wasn't like he was a loner."
A teammate, James Patterson, 31, said when he last spoke with Gale in October, he was laying sod for a landscaping company in Marysville, where Gale kept an apartment.
"I'm just stunned," Patterson said. "I can't even describe how he could have done something like this."
Gale made workers and customers uneasy at the Bears Den Tattoo Studio in Marysville, 25 miles northwest of Columbus, where he stared at people and forced them into conversations, manager Lucas Bender said.
"He comes in here and likes to hang out when he's not wanted," Bender said. "The most pointless conversations."
A tattoo artist at the studio, Bo Toler, said Gale was at the studio Wednesday between 5 and 6 p.m. Gale asked about having the studio order tattoo equipment for him and Toler said he told him no. Gale then got very angry and started yelling at him, he said.
"Last night was actually the first time I noticed his temper," Toler said on Thursday. "After the argument we had he kind of walked out with an attitude. He didn't even say goodbye."
Gale had red hair cut very close, often wore a winter hat and was always wearing a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey jersey, said Mandi Dellinger, who works at a cell phone store on the same block where Gale lives. Police said Gale was wearing the jersey during the shooting.
Dellinger said she used to say hello to Gale but they never had a conversation. "He seemed like a nice guy. He just seemed shy," Dellinger said.
Gale had several minor run-ins with police since 1997, but wasn't considered a troublemaker, Marysville assistant police chief Glenn Nicol said.
Gale ate two or three times a week at Maggie's Restaurant across an alley from his apartment, waitress Emi Walden said. He would stay to chat after eating and seemed lonely, Walden said.
"There was something odd about him, not like he would be dangerous to you, just something about him that wasn't right," she said.
Gale mentioned he was in the Marines but wouldn't talk specifics, Walden said. Messages left with several military public affairs offices trying to confirm his service were not immediately returned.
No one answered the door Thursday at the Marysville home of Gale's mother, Mary Clark. A message left on her cell phone was not immediately returned.
Despite a drizzle and temperatures in the 40s, more than 200 people turned up for a vigil Thursday night in the club's parking lot.
Shawn Sweeney, 22, played "old-school Pantera" on an acoustic guitar and a half-dozen young men held a blue tarp over his head and sang along.
"This is beautiful, this is absolutely beautiful," Sweeney said, referring to the growing crowd.
At one point, a naked young man stood in the middle of the street, arms raised, repeatedly cursing Gale. The crowd cheered boisterously, and the man took off in a full sprint across the parking lot as four police officers gave chase.
He was soon tackled and a man in the crowd yelled out, "We got your bond, dude!" as the streaker was led off in handcuffs.