By Jay Reeves/The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — 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 was 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 a 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 he saw the gun, 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 his room at the time. The other man was not wounded.
Once in the backyard, Bankhead said: “I lay down on the ground and played like I was dead.”