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Tear gas or pepper spray used at South African nightclub when teenagers died, eyewitness says

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(EAST LONDON, South Africa) — Tear gas or pepper spray was used on patrons at a popular nightclub in South Africa when more than a dozen teenagers mysteriously died there, an eyewitness told ABC News.

Sibongile Mtsewu, 22, said he was ordering drinks at the crowded Enyobeni Tavern near the South African city of East London over the weekend, when suddenly the doors were closed and some type of chemical agent was released into the air.

“There was no way out,” Mtsewu, who lives nearby, told ABC News in a telephone interview Thursday. “There was no chance to breathe.”

Mtsewu said he passed out after inhaling the substance. He recalled being surrounded by bodies when his brother woke him up some time later.

“The tear gas suffocated many people,” he told ABC News. “That’s why people died.”

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Mtsewu said one of his legs was injured and he has pains in his body from the incident.

The South African Police Service has declined to comment on possible causes of deaths, citing the ongoing probe.

Officers were called to the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, a suburb on the edge of East London in Eastern Cape province, on Sunday morning at around 4 a.m. local time, according to police. Upon arrival, they discovered 17 teens dead inside the club. Four more died when they were hospitalized or being transported to hospitals. The youngest victim was 13, police said.

The incident remains under investigation. The circumstances surrounding the tragedy were unclear, and the causes of deaths have yet to be established. No arrests have been made, according to police.

“We do not want to make any speculation at this stage as our investigations are continuing,” Brig. Tembinkosi Kinana, a spokesperson for the South African Police Service, told ABC News on Sunday.

As of Thursday, all 21 victims had been identified and the autopsies were completed, but toxicology reports were still pending, according to Siyanda Manana, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Health. A mass funeral will be held next week.

The South African Police Service’s commissioner for Eastern Cape province, Lt. Gen. Nomthetheleli Mene, released a statement on Wednesday expressing concern “about circulating rumours and media reports speculating on the cause of death.”

“As indicated earlier, at an appropriate time and when an official report has been made available by the experts, the family and members of the public will be informed by the relevant authority,” Mene said. “We urge people to refrain from making risky assumptions which do not assist our investigations.”

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