December 10, 2004 03:00 PM

The gunman who killed former Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three others at an Ohio nightclub on Wednesday was obsessed with the defunct heavy metal band, his friends said.

Jeramie Brey, a onetime friend of the gunman, Nathan Gale, told The Columbus Dispatch: “He was off his rocker” and said Gale claimed that Pantera songs were actually written by him.

“He said they were his songs, that Pantera stole them from him and that he was going to sue them,” Brey said.

Brey and friend Dave Johnson said they distanced themselves from Gale several years ago because of his odd behavior.

According to a witness, the band Damageplan – formed by Abbott and his brother, former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul – had just begun playing their first song at the Alrosa Villa club when Gale, 25, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and hockey jersey, walked up to the stage and opened fire, initially targeting Abbott, 38.

Still, others who knew Gale, a 25-year-old former Marine, said they never considered him capable of violence. James Patterson, 31, who played football with Gale, said he was shocked by the gruesome crime his friend committed.

“I’m just stunned,” Patterson told the Associated Press. “I can’t even describe how he could have done something like this.”

Police said Friday they still couldn’t confirm Gale’s motive for the shooting spree, which ended when a police officer shot and killed him. Although some witnesses claim Gale yelled accusations that Abbott broke up Pantera, police had not verified those reports.

“We may never know a motive for this, unless he left a note,” said Columbus police spokesman Sgt. Brent Mull.

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