Italian police investigating a deadly disco stampede said they have found a pepper spray can and were questioning dozens of witnesses following accounts of a teenage boy spraying an irritating substance, triggering a rush by the crowd to flee.
It is not known if the can found was the one whose spray apparently set off the stampede at around 1am on Saturday among a crowd awaiting a rapper’s performance in the Lanterna Azzurra (Blue Lantern) disco in Corinaldo, a small town in the Marche region of east-central Italy, Police Colonel Cristian Carrozza of the Ancona Carabinieri told reporters.
He also declined to confirm Italian media reports that a 16-year-old boy had been identified as the sprayer and would be questioned by juvenile court officials.
Five teenagers, all minors, and a woman who had accompanied her 11-year-old daughter to the concert, died in the crush as fleeing concertgoers toppled over a railing at the top of a 1.5m (4.9ft) cement ramp outside an exit. The railing gave way, sending young people tumbling over it and landing on top of each other below.
On Saturday, prosecutors and Italy’s premier and interior minister told reporters that nearly 1,400 tickets had been sold, while the disco could safely hold only 870 people, and the capacity of the concert room was about 460.
On Sunday, Carrozza said a count of ticket stubs indicated that about 600 tickets had been used for entry. It was unclear if other people might have got in without having tickets checked by disco personnel.
One of the DJs, Marco Cecchini, told reporters he was sure that more than just one room of the disco was open, in addition to the one with the 460-person capacity.
“I’ve done 40-50 evenings in that place, and, sincerely, there weren’t so many people. I’d estimate maybe 800-900 people, but all the rooms were open,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Cecchini, who is the son of one of the disco’s managers, as saying.
Several parents whose children had gone to the concert on Saturday brought police mobile phones to show videos of the disco’s premises in case the images could help in the investigation, ANSA said.
Many parents and patrons have said the disco was jam-packed.
Carrozza said that on Saturday, police had taken accounts from more than 80 people, and many more concertgoers were being questioned on Sunday.
Seven of the more than 50 people injured in the stampede remained in a critical condition on Sunday while the remaining patients had either already been discharged or were about to be discharged after their condition had improved, doctors said.
Meanwhile, interior minister Matteo Salvini has insisted that safety codes for public places should be rigorously respected, and police overnight shut down two discos in the south, near the port city of Salerno, for apparent overcrowding.