Ten Years Ago: DaShand Ray died ten years ago at the E2 nightclub tragedy in Chicago.Courtesy: Howard Ray

It was ten years ago when the Chicago Tribune published a photo of Howard Ray Sr. and his sons Ken and Howard Jr. kneeling behind a tombstone in Forest Home Cemetery. The stone emblazoned the handsome features of DaShand R. Ray and the words, “Our loving baby son and brother.” The engraved dates were May 4, 1978 – February 17, 2003.”

February 17, 2003 was the date of the worst nightclub disaster in Chicago history. Twenty-one patrons of the E2 nightclub lost their lives in a stampede sparked by pepper spray. “That night part of us died,” Howard Sr. said. “We’re not whole anymore.”

Any dad would be proud of a son like DaShand and miss him terribly. His youngest son excelled at sports, playing basketball at OPRF and qualifying for the state track meet. He was also a good student who did after-school tutoring. He was above-all a goodhearted kid who extended help to friends in trouble. One of his dreams was to start a home where kids could enjoy after-school activities, instead of hanging on the street.

His other dream was to become a sports broadcaster. That was one of several reasons the Columbia College student was at E2 that night. He was friends with the club manager’s son and knew the security guards. He also knew that E2 attracted celebrities like NBA stars. He hoped to make contacts to further his career.

DaShand was getting ready to leave the club, when a cousin called to say he was on his way. The cousin arrived to find the club in chaos. Police in riot gear kept bystanders at bay. Seeing that DaShand had not come out, the cousin tried to go in. He was beaten on the head with a nightstick. He was still bleeding when he got to Ray’s Hillside house to tell the family the grim news.

DaShand’s dad has not been the same since. The Vietnam combat veteran retired early from his job as an insurance regulator for the state. He immediately took another full-time job: finding justice for DaShand. Ray has been tireless in his legal research and efforts to keep pressure on public officials. On the tenth anniversary of the calamity, his civil lawsuit against Clear Channel Communications still languishes.

The media giant is the only defendant left, now that the club’s insurers settled and the City of Chicago was dismissed. “Money won’t bring my son back,” he admits, “I want someone to be held accountable.” Ray questions why the building department allowed the club to operate with so many violations. Why did first responders come to subdue a riot, rather than perform a rescue? Why did a club with an estimated capacity of 200 allow over 1,100 patrons?

When Howard gets the chance, he stops by Forest Home to assure his son, “I’m still working on it.”

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.