CHICAGO — On Feb. 17, 2003, an unthinkable tragedy played out in the South Loop — the E2 nightclub stampede, which left 21 people dead and dozens more injured.

Twenty years later, the building where the old E2 nightclub was remains vacant. For many, the indescribable grief associated with the tragedy also remains.

Shapara Hicks was a little girl when her mother, Latoya McGraw, was killed in the E2 nightclub. Hicks told WGN News that the grief is raw.

“Make sure ya’ll keep your mother close because you are never going to get another one,” Hick said.

20 years later: Remembering the E2 disaster

The chaos inside of E2 erupted after security guards deployed pepper spray to break up a fight. Clubgoers panicked and rushed to escape out of a narrow stairway leading to Michigan Avenue.

Danielle Green was among the victims who lost her life.

“At the end of the day, I told her I love her. Always say ‘you love’ your people because you never know, that might be the last day,” said Tajana Jefferson, the mother of Green.

Less than a year before the catastrophe, a Cook County judge ordered the club’s second floor to close because of code violations. Some family members say they want the building torn down and a memorial put up for their loved ones.  

“It was no justice served for these 21 victims because the city is still liable. I don’t care what they are telling people. It was a whole lot of undercover stuff going on and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” said the aunt of an E2 victim.

Dawn Valenti told WGN News her best friend’s son was also killed the night of the tragedy.

“It doesn’t get any better,” she said. “My best friend lost her son, Michael, and I remember that day like it was yesterday.”

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E2’s owners were charged with manslaughter but those charges were overruled on appeal. In 2015, the owners were sentenced to 500 hours of community service.