Gay Shooting Said Linked To Jokes

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — Ronald Gay, the man accused of killing one person and wounding six others in a gay bar, acted because of long-standing anger at the jokes people made of his last name, police said.

``He admits to shooting people,'' police investigator Lt. William Althoff told The Washington Post on Sunday. ``He told us people made fun of his name. ... He told us that he was upset about that.''

Gay, 53, faces a murder charge in the shootings Friday night at the Backstreet Cafe. He was being held without bond Sunday.

Danny Lee Overstreet, 43, was killed at the scene. One other victim, Iris Page Webb, 41, was in critical condition after being shot in the neck.

``I'm shocked and saddened by this terrible, terrible crime,'' Mayor Ralph Smith said at a news conference Saturday. ``Any time one member of our community is hurt, we all suffer by that same hand.''

William Gay, the suspect's brother, told The Roanoke Times on Sunday that his brother was the target of teasing when he was in the Marine Corps because of his name, but harbored no ill feelings toward homosexuals. ``When I went to school, gay just meant `happy,''' said William Gay, who lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

He said his brother, who served in Vietnam, had been trying to get medicine for post-traumatic stress disorder from the nearby Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

``When they did not give him his medication ... they were creating a time bomb,'' William Gay said. A spokesman for the VA center could not confirm Sunday night whether Gay was a patient.

According to police, Gay went to a tavern Friday and asked directions to the nearest gay bar, telling people he wanted to shoot gays. Someone gave him directions and immediately called police, who were looking for Gay when the shooting report came in.

John W. Collins, 39, was one of those wounded. Collins told the Post that the gunfire erupted just after he and Overstreet, a friend, hugged.

Gay ``stood up as I was letting go of the hug, and he was turning and he was also reaching into his black trench coat,'' said Collins, who was shot in the stomach. ``I saw the gun come out of his pocket. ... Everything was like in a millionth of a second.''

Gay left the bar after the shootings but was later found by police about two blocks away. Officers found a 9 mm pistol in a trash can near the bar.

Members of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force came to Roanoke for a candlelight vigil Saturday night at Backstreet Cafe. Flowers, cards and balloons were placed outside the bar by members of the community.