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Ford City native details shooting in Ohio club

| Friday, Dec. 10, 2004

Ford City native Laurie Winnell said she didn't recognize the sound of gunfire Wednesday night as she headed to her seat at the heavy metal band rock show in Columbus, Ohio, in which a gunman killed four people before police shot him.

"It was just about two minutes into the show and I was coming out of the restroom when we heard it," Winnell, 28, said. "Someone told me what was happening."

Police shot gunman Nathan Gale, 25, of nearby Marysville, Ohio, after he jumped on stage and began shooting. Damageplan guitarist and former Pantera member Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott was killed, along with three other people, before police shot Gale.

Witnesses said Gale climbed onto the stage at the Alrosa Villa club and shouted something before shooting Abbott at point-blank range five or six times and then turning his gun on the crowd.

Columbus police have credited concert-goers with keeping calm during the shooting, preventing any further injuries.

Winnell said she and her husband, Ben, decided to leave the concert as quickly as they could.

"We ran to our car, we didn't stick around," she said. "At that point, we didn't even know what would happen."

Abbott and his brother, Vinnie Paul Abbott, were among the founding members of one of thrash-metal's pioneer groups, Pantera. After Pantera disbanded, the brothers formed Damageplan.

Police said they didn't know Thursday what might have motivated Gale to attack the band and crowd at Wednesday's show, although they are looking into reports from witnesses that the gunman was a Pantera fan irate that the hugely influential group broke up.

Some of the 500 people packed into the club to see Abbott's new band initially thought that the gunman was an excited fan or that the shootings were part of the show.

"I figured it was another fan wanting to jump off the stage and crowd surf," said Brian Kozicki, the club's lighting designer. "I think he knew he wasn't going to get out and he was going to take down as many people as he could."

Gale, 25, listened to Pantera music to psyche himself up before football games and would often hang out at a tattoo parlor and make a pest of himself by talking to customers about music, the manager of the tattoo shop said.

"We may never know a motive for this, unless he left a note," Sgt. Brent Mull said.

Also killed in the shootings were Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23; and Jeff Thompson, 40, who was affiliated with the band.

Two others were hospitalized. The nature of their injuries was not disclosed.

Winnell's brother, Roger Hill, who lives in Virginia, said he had a bad feeling when he saw the news of the shooting on television Thursday morning.

"I told my son, 'Your Aunt Laurie might have been there," Hill said. "And then she sent me this e-mail, telling me that she and her husband were OK. I'm kind of in shock that this happened, you know."

Both Hill and his sister have been fans of heavy metal since their childhood, they said. Wednesday's shooting hasn't discouraged Winnell from heading out to more concerts.

"Oh no, if they reopen, we have plans to go back on Dec. 21 for another show," Winnell said.

Winnell, whose maiden name is Barraclough, moved away from Ford City in 1997.

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