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Chicago overwhelmed by nightclub deaths

By Jeff Flock
CNN

CNN's Jeff Flock at the Chicago club where 21 people died in a stampede.
CNN's Jeff Flock at the Chicago club where 21 people died in a stampede.

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CNN's Jeff Flock reports Chicago's city attorney says the floor of the building where 21 people died in a rush to exit was not supposed to be open. (February 17)
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- This story is overwhelming Chicago at the moment and there is a call for an independent board to find out exactly what triggered the stampede at the E2 nightclub that killed 21 people and injured at least 50 others.

This is the kind of thing that people expect to happen perhaps in some country far away perhaps even in some third world country not here in Chicago. It has shocked everyone.

There are groups coming together to try to provide for burial assistance for some of these families to make sure that everyone has a dignified burial. It was a large number of people, people who were not expecting to die. They were between the ages of 21 and 43-years-old, so it has truly been a shock to the community.

We have seen numerous people, some of them in tears, leaving flowers or messages near the door of the club. Someone has placed 21 crosses with 21 names in the alley beside the building in honor of the victims.

I don't think people know who to be angry at because they really don't know, at this point, what went wrong.

This was a popular club and it seems that everyone has said that the use of Mace or pepper spray by security guards was the event that set this all off.

But we were told by people who go to clubs frequently that it is not tremendously uncommon for pepper spray to be used inside of a club. It's not unheard of and it has not led to this sort of a mass tragedy

Some people who didn't see that incident, however, apparently thought there was some sort of terrorist attack. Some of them shouted poison gas, we are told. Someone made the reference 'I'll bet it's bin Laden.' This may have made the panic worse.

Was it a problem with the entrances, not enough entrances and exits or some being blocked? That's all being looked into, but at this point, people just don't know enough and just can't comprehend how this could happen.

One of the key questions today is whether or not the E2 nightclub was operating legally.

City attorneys say the club had been ordered to shut down last year. The Epitome restaurant on the first floor was not affected, but the club on the second floor was not allowed to operate.

Attorneys for the club, however, say that they had reached an agreement with the city, that they could use the second floor club, but not an upper level VIP area on that floor.

City officials said inspectors were under the impression that the club had closed and believed that the people coming and going from the building were diners at the restaurant.

Attorneys for club owners and others we have talked to in the community said there is no way the city could have not known that this club was operating.

Vast numbers of people would come, city police were often used for crowd control and even off-duty officers were employed by the club.

The club also advertised often on the Internet and on local radio stations

Another interesting point here is that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has been involved with the club, because people in the community tried to shut down the club or have its liquor license taken away over allegations of drug dealings and unruly clientele, as well as shootings and other altercations outside of the building.

Jackson had advocated on behalf of the club, saying it was unfairly targeted by those community groups.

He has taken a little bit of heat now for that position but he points out that he's long been an advocate for black-owned businesses and he's asking today for an independent board to investigate this so that no one will, in his words, be scapegoated for what went on.


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