TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The first person wounded in a shooting rampage in Alabama said Thursday that the gunman asked where to find a black man then opened fire in what the victim believes was a case of mistaken identity.
Bruce Bankhead was shot once in the spree that wounded 17 more people at a nearby bar early Tuesday morning. Bankhead says the gunman came to his house looking for a black man, used a racial slur and then opened fire when Bankhead indicated he didn't know who he was talking about.
"I said 'Who?' That's when I saw him pull the gun out and he started shooting," Bankhead said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Nathan Van Wilkins has been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and is also accused of setting several fires during the rampage. Police haven't said what his motive may have been. He has asked to be represented by the public defender's office, which declined comment Thursday.
A bullet tore through the side of Bankhead's torso, causing internal damage. He remained hospitalized after a surgery earlier in the week and will have another surgery.
Bankhead said he has a black roommate, but that none of the three men who live at the house know Wilkins or why he'd be mad at any of them. Another black man wounded at the bar has the same nickname as Bankhead's roommate.
"This was just a random wacko, a nut job racist, who went to the wrong house," Bankhead said.
Bankhead's account of the shooting is roughly the same as one given by the third roommate a day earlier and is consistent with the sparse narrative contained in court documents prepared by investigators.
Bankhead said he didn't know the man who came to the door. After the shooting began, he ran back through the house and jumped out a window that faces onto his backyard. The man fired a barrage of bullets at the front of the house, then followed Bankhead to the back and opened fire again. There were more than a dozen bullet holes in the house.
He hoped to lead the gunman outside to keep him from harming a roommate who was in another room. The other man was not wounded.
Once in the backyard, Bankhead said: "I lay down on the ground and played like I was dead."
After the shooting, the men who live at the house noticed someone had carved "KKK" into the hood of two of their cars and the metal box that covers the electrical panel on the side of the house.
Police have said they haven't been able to verify a racial motive for the shooting. The court documents that describe the shooting at the house don't mention the slur or the "KKK" carvings.
Bankhead's black roommate, Andrew Clements, had been at the Copper Top bar before the shootings there. He said he knows the brother of Wilkins' ex-wife and that he's seen the two men together. They appear to get along.
Still, Clements said he isn't acquainted with Wilkins and that mistaken identity is his only guess as to why the gunman came to their house.
"That's the only logical thing I can think of. I don't even know the guy," he said.
The shootings early Tuesday rattled the town that's home to the University of Alabama. Police say the 44-year-old Wilkins stood outside the crowded downtown bar and opened fire with an assault rifle, sending patrons running or crawling for cover in a chaotic and bloody scene. Bullets ricocheted and glass shards and brick chunks fell around the nightclub.
On Thursday, hospital officials said two others hurt in the shooting remained hospitalized in fair and serious condition, respectively.
While the motive for the shootings wasn't clear, Wilkins had a history of several violent outbursts and legal scrapes dating back to the 1980s. 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.
He'd also filed for bankruptcy last year and was divorced in 2005 after his wife accused him of beating threatening her.