"Our Hero"

The shooting that occurred in Columbus, Ohio, last week isn't as shocking as it is sickening. Ever since Lee Harvey Oswald took aim from a musty downtown book depository, modern society has been all too familiar with the effect of one man and his gun. Twenty-four years to the day before "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was shot onstage, John Lennon was killed by a lunatic carrying a copy of Catcher in the Rye. We don't know why, and I suspect we never will. For years, people sifted through Mark David Chapman's brain for a motive, for a reason, but he was just crazy. Like Abbott's assassin Nathan Gale was just crazy. And it's hard to argue with crazy when crazy empties a clip into your skull.

By Thursday morning, after news of the events at Alrosa Villa had broken, people were scrambling to replace this gruesome image with better days. Universal Rehearsal commissioned Deep Ellum artist Frank Campagna (who does the portraits at the Gypsy Tea Room) to paint a mural of Dimebag on the side of the building. Drive far enough up Greenville Avenue, near Interstate 635, and you'll see it: Dimebag looming large as he did in life, all wild hair and steely gaze.

"This is a place where people come to rehearse and want to be like Pantera and Dimebag," says Universal Rehearsal's Vince Barnhill, who knew Dimebag for 20 years. "Ninety percent of the people using my studio were influenced by him. We felt like it was something we needed to do."

Radio stations around town held tributes--most notably, the Edge's Chris Ryan broadcast live from the Thursday-night memorial at the Clubhouse (for a report on that event, see "Slaughtered" on page 93). The Bone hosted a tribute as well. Over at the Ticket's The Hardline, they replayed an old interview with Dimebag and opened up lines to fans bewildered by the loss.

Hardline producer Danny Balis, who also plays bass in Sorta, remembered his early years as a fan. "When I was a freshman, me and my buddy listened to this show called Metal Shop on Q102, and they used to play Pantera," he says. "When I first moved to Dallas, we'd sneak into Savvy's and see Pantera. They were just really, really nice--even to a skinny kid like me that they'd never met before."

Meanwhile, friends of 40-year-old Jeff Thompson tried to make sense of his loss in the tragedy (along with Nathan Bray and Erin Halk). Thompson, better known as Mayhem, was a beloved bull of a man who worked at 97.1 the Eagle as well as Coyote Ugly and Fat Ted's when he wasn't on the road working security with Pantera or Damageplan.

"He was incredible, says close friend Anthony Schnurr with a sigh. Schnurr, aka Bitchboy, worked with Thompson during his years at the Eagle. "He was so quick-witted. In combination with his intelligence, it made him such a unique person. That and the fact that he was 6-foot-7, 375 pounds."

At Thursday's memorial service, a sign duct-taped above the photos and lit candles reads, "Mayhem is our hero."

Although reports from the incident still leave question marks, friends have been quick to embrace the theory that Thompson died taking a bullet for his friend Dimebag. "He was a big-hearted guy who would do anything for you," says Clubhouse general manager Dallas Hale. "And that's what he did for Dime. He is our hero."

"He was a giant man with a great big heart," says Rebecca Kelly, standing by the memorial with her family and wiping tears from her eyes. Sometimes, when Club Indigo hosted a karaoke night, Kelly would go with Mayhem. "He loved karaoke," she says. His favorite? Neil Diamond.

"He was just so excited to go on tour with that band," adds her husband, Steve Kelly, shaking his head. "He talked about it all the time."

"That was what he lived for," Schnurr says. "I've said this several times over the last few days. He went out doing what he does. And Dime went out doing what he does."

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Sarah Hepola