Witness Says Slur Preceeded Alabama Shooting

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - The roommate of a man wounded in an
Alabama shooting rampage said Wednesday that the violence started
when the gunman came to their door looking for a black man, used a
racial slur and opened fire.

The witness also said the black man had been at the Tuscaloosa
bar where later shootings wounded 17. Authorities said they weren't
yet able to verify a racial motive.

Nathan Van Wilkins has been charged with 18 counts of attempted
murder and will face arson charges in the spree that also included
fires set to property and equipment owned by his former employer.
It's not clear what may have made him lash out, but he was fired in
the spring from his job because of a fistfight, had filed for
bankruptcy last year and was divorced in 2005.

Brian Felton lives at the house where authorities say Wilkins
wounded his first victim before going to the Copper Top bar near
the University of Alabama campus. Felton said a man he lives with,
who is white, answered the door late Monday and the gunman asked
for another roommate, who's black.

Felton said he heard the gunfire and found the white roommate
bleeding. His wounded roommate told him that the gunman had asked for the third roommate using the racial epithet.

A detective for the sheriff's department said they hadn't been
able to verify whether the target of the shootings had been at the
house and the bar.

"We haven't had anything concrete that it was racial," said
Sgt. Kip Hart.

Felton is president of the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Legion of
Doom Motorcycle Club. He and the roommate who was shot, Bruce
Bankhead, own a tattoo shop together and live in the home that's
considered the group's club house with their other roommate, Andrew
Clements.

Neither Felton nor Bankhead know Wilkins, and they're not aware
that he's affiliated with any motorcycle group, Felton said. Police
said they'd ruled out motorcycle gang violence as a reason for the
shooting.

Felton, a 33-year-old military veteran, was in his room watching
television Monday night when he heard their doorbell ring
repeatedly, then voices, a scuffle and two bursts of multiple
gunshots. He went out to see what happened and found Bankhead
bleeding.

"That's when he fell through the door and said he'd been
shot," Felton said.

After the shooting, Felton said he found that someone had
scratched "KKK" into the hood of his pickup truck. Clements had
been with the brother of Wilkins' ex-wife earlier the night of the
shootings. Clements left the Copper Top before gunfire broke out
there and wasn't wounded.

"Even Andrew doesn't know why he's upset with him," Felton
said.

The motive for the shootings wasn't clear, but the 44-year-old
Wilkins had a history of several violent outbursts and legal
scrapes dating back to the 1980s. On Wednesday, he was on suicide
watch after telling investigators he had hoped that officers
responding to the shooting would kill him. No date has been set for
his first court hearing.

The court clerk's office said it wasn't clear if he had a
lawyer.

Wilkins had been fired from his job after a fistfight with a
co-worker at Capstone Oilfield Services in March, said Brookwood
Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Sellers. Neither was seriously hurt,
and Sellers didn't know what caused the fight.

Wilkins told police in April he was angry about his firing from
Capstone, and he was pressing assault charges against the
co-worker, Sellers said. The other man had also been fired but not
arrested.

Wilkins is suspected of setting three fires to equipment or
property owned by Capstone. A fire was set to a Capstone vehicle
parked at someone's house after the first shooting, and fires were
set at two Captsone locations in Brookwood after the gunfire at the
bar. Sellers said Wilkins will be charged with arson.

Sellers speculated that once Wilkins snapped, he may have
decided to respond to a number of perceived slights. Sellers knew
of no connection between the shooting victims and Wilkins' former
employer.

"From what we're hearing, he started something so big the night
before last that he just said: `I'm going to take care of
everything at one time,"' he said.

The firing from the supervisory position he'd held for at least
six years likely worsened existing financial problems. A bankruptcy
filing from July 20, 2011 shows that Wilkins was taking home about
$4,400 each month at the time and that he had grossed about $83,000 in 2010 as a supervisor at Capstone.

Records show that his bankruptcy declaration last year was his
third since 1991, and he faced a hearing in a couple weeks. The
move prevented a credit union from garnishing his wages at
Capstone, to collect a $15,000 debt.

Wilkins' wife Amy filed for divorce in July 2004 after 16 years
of marriage, according to Tuscaloosa County court records. She
claimed she was beaten and that Wilkins threatened to kill her and
sexually assaulted her. They had two children, and a judge ordered
him to pay $1,300 a month in child support in the divorce decree in
March 2005.

Court documents show that Wilkins' wife asked a judge to hold
him in contempt for violating a restraining order issued in July of
2004. She said that he had threatened her at their son's football
practice, saying she needed to "watch her back." Records show
that he served about 10 days in jail on a contempt citation related
to the restraining order.

An attorney who represented Wilkins in the divorce case, Julie
Love, said that he was "agreeable with our office from beginning
to end" and that they had kept in touch. Referring to the
shootings, Love said: "I wouldn't have expected this type of
conduct."

Wilkins also has a record of arrests and legal scrapes in
Tuscaloosa County dating to the mid-1980s.

On Wednesday, people hospitalized after the shooting were
improving. One patient was in serious condition and remained in
intensive care, said Brad Fisher, a spokesman at DCH Regional
Medical Center. Another was in fair condition, while three more had
been discharged.

They are among 17 people hurt by either gunshots or debris
during the shooting at the Copper Top early Tuesday morning. Police
accuse Wilkins of standing outside the crowded bar and firing from
two different positions, sending patrons running or crawling for
cover in a chaotic and bloody scene.

A woman who lives next door to Felton said the men are good
neighbors. Dorothy Burns said she and her husband were in bed
Monday when they heard gunfire erupt.

"It was like six shots. He must have stopped and reloaded and
then started again. It was about a dozen shots in all. It was real
scary," she said.


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