Nathan Van Wilkins, the Alabama man charged with injuring 17 people in a shooting spree at an Tuscaloosa bar near the University of Alabama, had been through traumatic life events in the last few years that likely led to him snapping.
He filed for bankruptcy last year, the third time since 1991, his wife of 16 years divorced him seven years ago, his employment status with Capstone Oilfield Services was questionable, and when he turned himself in yesterday he admitted that he was on drugs when he opened fire at the bar with an assault rifle.
In fact, Wilkins, 44, indicated his displeasure with Capstone by setting fire to company property in three separate locations before he walked in to a FedEx store and said he wanted to surrender to police. But police say they are still unsure of exactly what motivated Wilkins to open fire at a packed bar during a 50 cent beer happy hour. They suspect it might have had something to do with a dispute between rival motorcycle gangs.
Wilkins opened fire from two different locations, sending bullets and glass flying everywhere and screaming patrons running and diving for cover. Most of the injured were hit by bullet fragments or debris, and they were treated and released, said Brad Fisher, a spokesman at DCH Regional Medical Center. Two people were in intensive care, including one in critical condition.
At least three of the injured were university students.
Wilkins surrendered about 10 hours after the 12:30 a.m. shooting near the University of Alabama campus, police said.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I’m the one they are looking for that shot the 17 people in Tuscaloosa,” said the FedEx store’s co-owner, Ken Barfield.
Barfield said he talked to the man and offered him something to drink, even though he was terrified.
“I told him to keep his hands out in the open so police could see them when they got here.”
Wilkins’ wife Amy filed for divorce in July 2004, 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.
Wilkins also has a record of arrests and legal scrapes in Tuscaloosa County dating to the mid-1980s.
Police said Wilkins walked away from the bar after the shooting and at about 10:30 a.m., 10 hours later, he walked into a FedEx store about 45 miles north of the shootings to turn himself in.
Wilkins is charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and was being held on $2 million bond, Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson said. It wasn’t clear whether he had an attorney. A lawyer who represented Wilkins in the bankruptcy case did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The rampage actually started a couple of miles away about 45 minutes earlier, police said, when Wilkins knocked on the door to a home and waited for a person to answer it. He then started firing, wounding the person. That was included in the 18 counts he is facing.