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Ala. bar rampage suspect was fired after fistfight

BROOKWOOD, Ala. (AP) — The suspect in a shooting rampage at an Alabama bar had been fired from his job after a fistfight with a co-worker this spring, police said Wednesday.

Nathan Van Wilkins told police in April he was angry about his firing, and he was pressing assault charges against the other man, said Brookwood Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Sellers. Wilkins signed a warrant against the other man, who had also been fired but not arrested.

It's not clear what role the firing from Capstone Oilfield may have played in the shootings early Tuesday that wounded 17 at a bar. Sellers says he's not aware of any connection between the shooting victims and the company.

But Sellers had many stresses in his life. He had declared bankruptcy last year — court records show it was for the third time since 1991 — and faced a hearing in a couple weeks. The move prevented a credit union from garnishing his wages at his then-employer, Capstone Oilfield Services, to collect a $15,000 debt. In 2005, his wife of 16 years divorced him.

Police have charged the 44-year-old Wilkins with 18 counts of attempted murder, which includes a charge for a shooting at a house just before the bar rampage. Wilkins is also suspected of setting three fires to equipment or property owned by Capstone.

Sellers said police haven't linked all the crimes and speculated that Wilkins may have decided to lash out against a number of unrelated slights.

"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,'" Sellers said.

On Wednesday, patients hospitalized after the shooting were improving. One patient was in serious condition and remained in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit on Wednesday morning, said Brad Fisher, a spokesman at DCH Regional Medical Center. Two others are now in fair condition. The remaining two patients are in good condition and would likely be discharged by Wednesday night, he said.

The five patients are among 17 people hurt by either gunshots or debris during the shooting at the Copper Top bar in Tuscaloosa early Tuesday morning.

Police accuse Wilkins of standing outside the crowded downtown bar and opening fire from two different positions, sending patrons running or crawling for cover in a chaotic and bloody scene. Authorities say Wilkins surrendered about 10 hours later.

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