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Police say the victims range in age from 13 to 17, and they have no answers as to how they died as 21 teens were found dead in a South African night club.

21 teenagers celebrating the end of school exams died in a mysterious incident at a nightclub. The bodies of many of the victims, the youngest just 13, were discovered by police lying on tables, slumped over chairs and sprawled on the floor of the club in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Police spokeswoman Col. Athlenda Mathe said the investigation into the deaths at the Enyobeni Tavern in the city of East London in Eastern Cape province was ongoing and no cause of the deaths had yet been established.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that forensic samples from the victims were being sent to a toxicology lab in Cape Town, indicating that police were investigating whether the victims had ingested some kind of poison or toxin.

Cele said the toxicology tests might take a “lot of time.”

Provincial safety official Unathi Binqose told the Daily Maverick newspaper that the victims may have ingested a toxic substance through alcohol they were drinking or through hookah pipes, which were being smoked at the party. Initial reports speculated that the teenagers may have died in a stampede because of overcrowding at the party, but authorities found no visible signs of injuries on the bodies.

Police said they were called to the nightclub at around 4 a.m. Sunday morning after receiving a report that there were “lifeless bodies” there. Officers responding to the call walked in on a grim scene: 17 teenagers were found dead on the spot. Two more died at a local clinic, one died on the way to the hospital and one at the hospital. Their ages were between 13 and 17, police said.

The teenagers were reportedly celebrating the end of mid-year exams, a local DJ’s birthday and the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa, which was announced earlier in the week.

Parents were asked to come to a mortuary to identify their children.

Police Minister Cele visited the nightclub and the mortuary on Sunday and choked back tears as he spoke to reporters outside the mortuary.

“The scene I have seen here inside, it doesn’t matter what kind of a heart you have,” Cele said. “Firstly, the sight of those bodies sleeping there. But when you look at their faces you realize that you’re dealing with kids, kids, kids.”

“You’ve heard the story that they are young but when you see them you realize that it’s a disaster. Twenty-one of them. Too many.”

It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to consume alcohol in South Africa and residents and community leaders have called for the nightclub to be shutdown.

This is a developing story and we’ll keep you posted. Thanks to the Associated Press for contributing to this article

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