Seventeen people, including eight minors, were killed at a crowded Caracas club early Saturday when a tear gas canister was detonated, setting off a stampede, Venezuelan officials said.
The incident on Saturday morning occurred after a middle school graduation party degenerated into a brawl and someone detonated the tear gas, according to Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol.
The detonation set off a stampede, with more than 500 people rushing for the exits of the Los Cotorros club in the middle-class neighbourhood of El Paraiso.
Official reports said the victims died of suffocation or multiple trauma.
Eight of those killed were younger than 18, said Reverol. Five people were injured and taken to hospital for treatment.
Outside the club, several mismatched shoes lay on the sidewalk.
“All I know is my son is dead,” Nilson Guerra, 43, told local journalists.
Reverol did not give any motive behind the brawl.
“The establishment has been ordered closed, and we are investigating in coordination with the public ministry, which is directing the criminal investigation,” Reverol said.
He also said seven people were arrested, including the owner of the club and the person who is believed to have launched the explosive device.
Reverol said the owner had permitted weapons into the club that threatened the “integrity” of the establishment.
Most of the injured were being treated at nearby hospitals and one minor was in serious condition.
Jesus Armas, an opposition councilman who lives in the neighbourhood, said the interior ministry should explain how a civilian was able to obtain tear gas canisters that should only be utilised by state security forces.
He also urged authorities to investigate whether the club had permission to hold several hundred people inside.
“That’s not a big space and that should not be authorised,” he said.
Police have detained the owner of the club for “not guaranteeing adequate supervision and preventing the entry of any type of weapon”.
No information on the owner’s name, exact charges or current whereabouts was immediately provided.
Family members who gathered outside the hospital where many victims were taken wept and embraced one another as they tried to find out what had happened.
Julio Cesar Perdomo said his injured son told him the tear gas was launched from a bathroom and that the establishment then closed the doors.
“The kids couldn’t leave,” he said.
Officials did not comment on whether the exit had in fact been closed after the brawl broke out.