Morley's conversation with Chris A. author of A Vulgar Display Of Power: Courage and Carnage At The Alrosa Villa A Book about the Dimebag Darrell shooting
Anyone who was touched by the shooting death of ex-Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell will be interested in a new book due out this April. Penned by author Chris A., "A Vulgar Display Of Power: Courage and Carnage At The Alrosa Villa," will tell the story of not only the events of that tragic night in December 2004, but also of three individuals who also lost their lives. A club employee, Damageplan's security guard, and a fan who was in the audience were all killed at the hand of the same gunman after they tried to intercede. I spoke with Chris this week to get an advance peek of what prompted this book and a bit of what went into writing it.
antiMUSIC: What prompted you to write about this book? If I understand right, this book is not necessarily a focus on or tribute to Dimebag but rather a historical recreation of the events that happened that night. Is that correct?
Chris A.: That's a pretty accurate assessment of it all. You know, it's been tagged the Dimebag Book or the Dimebag Murder book, and of course I kinda expected that. It does of course cover that stuff but it's far more than that. What prompted me to write it…you know I remember the day that I heard that Dimebag was murdered and it was one of those times where…man, it was just kinda like a kick at the chest. I remember when I was stationed in England in the military, when John Lennon was murdered. And I kinda felt like I really felt the same kind of frustration at why would somebody kill a guy who's on a stage playing guitar entertaining people, and it's not like Dimebag Darrell was this divisive, arrogant idiot or anything. He was by all accounts a really, really nice guy. And so you know, for the next few months I kind of passively followed it in the media. And one of the first things that kinda jumped out at me was Dimebag Darrell and these three other people were murdered and I wasn't reading the names of the other three people. And I wasn't really reading much or hearing much about the circumstances by which they were killed. So I'm wondering, were these people just in the audiences or something and they got hit by stray bullets, what was the deal. Because they were just completely smothered by Dimebag's celebrity.
And of course the media focused almost exclusively on either Darrell or the bad guy. And one of the things that really started pushing me towards thinking about maybe doing something with this was what I thought was a very ludicrous assertion of motive, that being, the guy was upset that Pantera broke up. Well there are a lot of reasons to go up and kill a bunch of people but I don't really consider that to be particularly viable even if you're talking about somebody who's perhaps got mental health issues. So I was really, really skeptical. I thought that was just far too, too generic. I mean it just didn't make sense. My background is, I've got a background in criminal justice, I've got a bachelors degree in criminal justice and a couple of Masters degrees in some other stuff. So I started looking at it a little more analytically and tried to get a little deeper in it.
So those two things, the fact that these three regular guys were killed and I didn't really know the circumstances behind that. Plus the very weak motive kinda got the wheels turning that perhaps…you know, I was confident that there was more to it than just Pantera breaking up. So what really propelled me to move forward was I was doing an interview with Zakk Wylde in Columbus, oh, probably six, seven months after the murder. And we got to talking about Dimebag and he was really telling me, just these wonderful things about Dimebag, the guy not the guitar player, not the rock star. Just the guy. And that really is what convinced me to really…you know…I needed to find out more about this guy cuz I'd never seen Pantera. I was certainly a Pantera fan to an extent. I'm not...you know, I don't live breathe and survive on just Pantera stuff, but I was very familiar with who he was and had good respect for his skills in the heavy metal genre. So I started putting together bits and pieces of stuff. And then when the criminal investigation was over, I said, okay, here we go. I need to grab a copy of it. So I did what I needed to do and started obtaining all the official documentation and at the same time watching the media and watching things on the web, because I was actually sure that somebody of merit would want to put something together about this and I saw nothing. So I'm like, okay, well maybe I can do it. So that's what really propelled me to do it man. The fact that I wanted to know more about these three guys who were killed and I didn't buy the motive.
antiMUSIC: For those that may have either forgotten or did not get all the details, what happened at the club that night?
Chris A.: Sure. Damageplan came on stage at about 10:15 and about 45 seconds into their first song, a guy burst around the stage p.a. system, got on the stage, straight across the stage, grabbed Dimebag by the head and shot him in the head three times. As that was going on, the bad guy was leapt upon, grabbed from behind by Jeff Thompson, who was the security chief for the band. And several other people ran up to the wings to assist. As they were all kinda falling down, the bad guy squeezed off some rounds and like I say, shot Dimebag in the head three times. He was able to push Jeff Thompson, who was six foot eight and weighed 375ish pounds off him and what's really incredible is, at that point, the bad guy was looking for Vinnie Paul. Jeff Thompson realized that, you know, I'm screwing around with a guy who's got a gun. And Jeff could have very well jumped off the stage and called it a night but he didn't do that. He chose instead to re-engage this guy. And because he did that, Vinnie Paul walks the earth today. I absolutely believe that. He was able to, he distract the bad guy, put him in a head lock, and unfortunately the killer with the handgun in his right hand just pointed it over his own shoulder and shot Jeff Thompson in the upper chest, causing Jeff to involuntarily release him and kinda spun him around and then the gunman just shot him in the back. A young guy in the audience, 23 year old Nathan Bray, a devoted Pantera and Dime fan for as long as he could remember; a husband and a father of a two year old named Anthony, was watching. He was one of the few people to realize pretty quick, you know, this isn't part of the show, this is real stuff. So he tried to scramble up on the stage and security at the venue pushed him off a couple of times, trying to prevent him from climbing the barrier. Of course, the security people are kinda transfixed by what's going on as well. So Nathan Bray got past them. He climbed up on the stage and he crawled on his hands and knees to Dimebag and tried to give him CPR. But he realized pretty quickly that Dimebag was dead. So he turned his attention to Jeff Thompson, the security guy who was now down on stage floor shot. And he started to give him CPR. And out of the corner of his eye, the bad guy, popped up from around Dimebag's p.a. system...or amplifier system, holding a hostage and involuntarily, Nathan Bray stood up and went to the guy and held his arms out to his sides as to if say, 'What are you doing, man'? And got shot in the chest.
The next thing that happen, as far as people coming in, there's a guy named Erin Halk, and Erin was working at the venue in the dual role as roadie and security. And he was a former U.S. marine, And right when it started, right after the first couple of people were shot, Erin grabbed a beer bottle and tried to figure out a way to get to this guy, but it was just way too dangerous. So he very smartly backed off and waited until there was an opening. And there came a point in time when the assailant ran out of ammo, and walked to the rear. People on the stage saw that and started screaming 'He's outta bullets' and Erin Halk tried to go behind the drum riser to get him but he was about 25 feet away and he just floored it and tried to jump over a bunch of stuff to get to him and ended up being shot five times and he was also killed.
At about 4 minutes in, the cops show up and officer James Niggemeyer, who's written the forward to the book, entered the venue through the back door. The fans inside and the roadies and the crew folks pointed out the location and the description of the bad guy. Niggemeyer put himself in a position where he could acquire the target, and there came a certain point in time where the bad guy pointed his gun at the head of the hostage and Niggemeyer shot him with a 12 gauge shot gun from about 20 feet away and killed him.
It's an incredibly intense 4 minutes and 59 seconds. But it's also one of these things…the book is very different because it's about perspective. A lot of people have this perspective that this is such a horrific, terrible, black dark day in heavy metal and music and I don't disagree with that. But at the same time, holy cow, in the midst of all this tragedy and carnage and evil, we've got people who were ready to step up the plate to put their lives on the line, to help rescue or save or disarm a violent person to save the lives or help people that they'd never bet before. And that to me is the real heart of the story. That a lot of folks really had no concept of, I certainly didn't when I started this. I was a few months into it and I found it to be an incredibly dark, painful story. And I couldn't find the silver lining, until I met with the mother of Erin Halk. And about a week after I met with her I got a letter from her, and she said to me, 'You know Chris, I absolutely believe that you were sent to me by my son, and your interest has given me the courage to look harder at his life and I know what a good man he was'. And wow, what an incredible thing. And I realized right there I've got the privilege and the honor to tell people about these three people and then to articulate the courage and heroism they shared in a very graphic way. So that's really kinda what the book is all about and kinda what happened that night. but the book gives a bio on Erin Halk, Nathan Bray and Jeffrey Thompson. It gives the background and history of the bad guy. It gives the reader a good glimpse into what propelled him and what motivated him and I can assure you that the breakup of Pantera is not a player in that when it comes to motive…no, not even close.
So that's kinda what happened in those 4 minutes and 59 seconds.
antiMUSIC: The main question asked at the time was how did the gunman get the gun through security. What did you find out about that?
Chris A.: That's easy. That's real simple to answer. And this has been…when I started the book, I tried to…I'm not a journalist. I don't consider myself a journalist. I'm a writer and a historian. So I wanted to look at this as objectively as I possibly could. I had no real preconceived notions on anything,. Because I found out pretty quickly that any that I had were wrong. What happened was, when Nathan Gale, that's the bad guy, when he arrived at the venue…the configuration of the entrance to the Alrosa Villa is you walk in a side door…that's the main entrance, and you go down a hallway, probably 10 feet, then you take a 90 degree right, and go about another seven feet. And that's where security is. You cannot see what actions are being taken by security from the outside of the venue. So he had no clue what was going on. He didn't know if there were metal detectors. He didn't know if there were strip searches. He had no idea. So consequently, he didn't go through that door. What he did was, there's a fenced-in patio with a six foot privacy fence around it, that patrons use to smoke. So if you're inside the venue you go out this patio door, and you hang out in the patio and you smoke your cigarette. He jumped over this fence and he got in through the patio door. And he was seen by this parking attendant. And the parking attendant ran in the venue and told some security guys and they actually pursued the guy. Now what you gotta bear in mind, now this is where a lot people get kinda stupid. Well I don't really want to say stupid, but they become unrealistic. Why didn't they stop it? First and foremost, the guy's six foot four, 265. The tickets were only $8. Now I don't know about you, I don't know how things work in Canada but if a security guy were to jump on and throw a guy down on the ground and pounce on him for trying to evade an $8 dollar ticket,..that would be a problem. That's a pretty big over-reaction. But the biggest contributing factor, is this is such an extreme event. Who in their right mind…? What security guy, what venue, what band would for a moment think that somebody is going to jump the fence, come in the building, make their way to stage and start shooting people? You know, it just doesn't add up. Damageplan is currently trying to sue the venue and other people have alluded to, they've made comments critical of security, without really having a good grip on what really happened there, and the nuances that made it what it was. My thoughts on that are that, if you really, really look at what happened, this is one of those things that it's such an extremely rare event. I've looked for precedence for any type of entertainer who was literally murdered while performing on stage, and I never found one. I don't know of any precedent for this. Assigning any culpability, in my opinion, my research and look into this, I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the killer. I think to try to rationalize that somehow the venue, or the band, or some third part, had some role in it, is just unrealistic.
antiMUSIC: The policeman that shot the gunman responded on his own fairly quickly it sounds like. If he had not interceded when he did, is there a strong sense that the shootings would have continued? Because the gunman was out of ammo at that point wasn't he?
Chris A.: No he wasn't out of ammo. In fact, he had 35 more rounds. He was far from out of ammo. Obviously, a completely subjective question. Yeah, he certainly had the capability to kill or at least hurt a lot more people. The fact is, when Officer Niggemeyer entered the back door, he was very focused on the assailant. And the media incorrectly portrayed him as entering alone and all that. When he came in through that door by himself, what he didn't know, was that 5 other officers were already, were actually in the venue as well. They'd come in through the sides and the front, so what happened was when Niggemeyer took up his position which was about 20 feet from the bad guy, what prompted him to shoot him was, the bad guy actually saw another cop at the front of the stage and drop his gun down to the head of the hostage. Niggemeyer had no idea any other police officer was in the building. So as far as I'm concerned, he's just as good as being in there by yourself if you don't know anybody's there. Know what I mean? But he's very gracious with accolades. He does not pat himself on the back. He's a firm believer that if he hadn't pulled the trigger, somebody else would have. And that situation would have been resolved. Would it have been as clean…oh, I don't want to say clean, would it have been as efficient? Hard to say. It's hard to say. The fact remains is that there was plenty of potential and capability for Nathan Gale to kill many more people.
antiMUSIC: When looking at this, how did the venue, both security and management react to this tragedy, both at the time and following the event?
Chris A.: I think venue security at the Alrosa Villa, in a lot of ways, went over and above. You have to remember that Erin Halk was a member the security detachment. He was killed. It's really hard, I think it's really hard for anybody who's really seen the documentary and physical evidence that I've seen, to really place blame on the venue. The media at the time made it sound like it was an incredibly chaotic, panicked-filled scene. And the fact is, it really was not. You may have seen a 15-second video clip that was shot from the stage that night, where you actually see the gunman running across the stage and all that kind of stuff. Have you ever seen that Morley?
antiMUSIC: No I have not.
Chris A.: Well, you can go onto You Tube and stuff like that and you might be able to run it down, but it's real grainy, real fuzzy. I've got 2 and a half hours of it. I know what the crowd did. I know what the cops did and you know what. There wouldn't be a heavy metal fan in the world who wouldn't be incredibly proud of the way the audience reacted, the crew reacted, and the venue security reacted. I mean all those people were put in an extremely tenuous situation and it's not a fair fight. I mean there's one guy in the place with a gun and nobody else has anything. Yet they didn't just trample each other, and crush people to get out. They passed the word that this was real, get the heck out. They helped each other out. People climbed on stage and were giving CPR and trying to get people out of the line of fire. Trying to negotiate with the killer. Helping the police. Giving descriptions. Calling 911. one of the most impressive things of the whole night was, when I did an interview with the lead homicide detectives and I asked, 'What really struck you?'. He said, he showed up about an hour after the shooting, and he said what absolutely blew him away was the fact that there were some 250 heavy metal fans hanging around the parking lot waiting to give statements to the police.
Now contrast that with the murder of say, Tupac Shakur, gunned down on the freaking strip in Vegas with his crew and nobody sees anything. So you know, the way I weave the tale, there's been a lot of ways…you can take 30 years of stereotypical heavy metal fan bashing, you know this kid killed himself because he was listening to Judas Priest, or all the Columbine killers were, well they listened to Marilyn Manson so they must be killers and stuff. You can take all that stereotypical stuff and throw it in the trash because this is the antithesis of all that. I think the venue guys did a good job, I mean, when you've got a venue security guy who's shot five times trying to help a hostage and disarm a bad guy, to me, it's really tough to denigrate the security at the venue, you know what I mean?
We'll have the second part of this interview next week