They wanted to celebrate a birthday and the start of the holidays: at least 21 young people have died in a small tavern in South Africa. The cause of the tragedy is unclear.

In response to an unexplained incident in which at least 21 young people died in a South African pub, police have ordered the use of “maximum resources”.

Four other minors are in critical condition, police said.

The teenagers, aged between 13 and 17, were found dead in a small tavern in the city of East London early on Sunday morning. The cause of death remained a mystery as of Monday; a forensic investigation had been initiated, it said.

Corpses on chairs, sofas and the dance floor

According to emergency responders, the bodies were found slumped on chairs, sofas and the dance floor with no visible wounds. Initially, the police suspected a mass panic as the background. This has since been ruled out as the cause of death.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described the incident as a “tragedy”. According to media reports, the young people had celebrated a birthday and the beginning of the holidays. On Sunday, the police initially spoke of at least 22 dead.