Following the tragic event of last weekend when 21 people died in a Chicago nightclub, friends and family of those lost are left with only agony and an array of questions.
Chicago police will only confirm that a "disturbance" on the club's dance floor and the spraying of a "chemical agent" into the air played a role in the incident. However, one patron at the second-floor club on the night of the incident paints a detailed and horrific portrait of the events that occurred.
The 20-something man from the south Chicago suburbs, who prefers to remain anonymous, said that the domino effect of terrible events began in the early morning hours on Monday when a fight broke out between two women. The club's security guards attempted to quell the brawl by spraying pepper spray into the air, according to the witness.
The crowd began to choke on the fumes, and people rushed for the front exit to the stairs. Many removed their shirts, holding them over their faces to wipe their eyes and to keep from ingesting the spray. Some even vomited or passed out.
In what the witness viewed as an attempt to help, security guards moved to block those pushing to the exit, fearing that the rush of people shoving to reach the stairwell was becoming dangerous. However, at least one lawsuit filed in the wake of the tragedy characterizes the actions of the security team differently, alleging that guards "locked, blocked or otherwise obstructed the means of egress or exit from the second level of the premises to the exit below." Chicago police, however, said that guards did not try to block the front exit.
Whatever the cause, the human gridlock took an immediate and grave toll. People were crushed and suffocated, while others suffered cardiac arrest.
Upstairs, the witness was surveying his options. "I could see people shoving each other but I knew I couldn't get out that way," he said of the front exit to the stairs. In the end, he survived by remaining calm, staying put and waiting the pandemonium out. "It took like two hours before things were clear," he said. "I went by the stage and just stayed there and prayed."
A wrongful death suit filed by the family of one of the victims against Dwayne Kyles, E2's owner, and Calvin Hollins Jr., a consultant to the club, alleges that the club was "packed beyond capacity with over 1,500 patrons" and that "all of the exits to the club, except the front doors, were either locked or blocked" in violation of fire codes. The suit also charges that E2 failed to hire qualified employees to provide security and crowd control. In addition, the suit claims, E2 did not properly train its employees in crowd control and the use of pepper spray in confined areas.
This is not the first time a tragic incident occurred at the club, but it was by far the worst. Police have responded to at least 80 incidents, including shootings, in and around the club since 2000, and in 1996 a 25-year-old woman accused Mike Tyson of sexually assaulting her at E2, which was previously known as the Clique, among other names.
It is also unclear whether or not the club was even cleared to open for business on the night in question. Police claim they had ordered the club closed for structural and safety reasons, while club owners said that the order pertained only to E2's VIP rooms, which were not open on the night of the tragedy.
It was not unusual to see stars frequenting the venue, which may have been part of its appeal. R&B singer Avant held a party at E2 the night before the stampede, 50 Cent held an event a few weeks prior to the incident, and R. Kelly, Common and Twista have all performed at the club in the past.
R. Kelly recently announced that he will give $3,000 to the families of those who died. Local urban music radio stations WCGI-FM and Power 102 are planning benefit concerts to raise funds. In addition, Operation PUSH, an organization started by Jesse Jackson and which counts the club owner's father, the Rev. Billy Kyles, among its founding members, is collecting donations to absorb funeral costs for the 21 victims.
A memorial service will be held for the victims at Salem Baptist Church on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Police are still investigating the incident, and no one has been arrested. The department has opened an internal investigation into whether one of its own officers, Donald D. Crayton, was working off-duty as a bouncer at E2 on the night of the incident. In Chicago, off-duty officers are not allowed to work as bouncers at establishments that serve alcohol.
MTV News will revisit the recent nightclub tragedies in Rhode Island and Chicago and explore club safety issues in a special edition of "The Wrap" premiering Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on MTV2. The special MTV News report will air again Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., Friday at 1 p.m., and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on MTV2.