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Club 23 attempts to rebound after shooting

Mary Kate Malone | Friday, September 14, 2007

Club 23, the popular South Bend bar where two Notre Dame students were shot and wounded Aug. 21, has been making a slow comeback after facing dwindling popularity in the shooting’s aftermath.

The bar’s longtime owner, Mahmoud Hussein, fears that Notre Dame students are “boycotting” the club, located at 744 N. Notre Dame Ave., because they no longer feel safe in the neighborhood.

“The last few Mondays have been bad,” said Hussein, who was working at Club 23 the night that seniors Matthew Collins and Mitchell Depree were shot outside the bar’s front door while they were waiting for a ride.

Hussein had gone outside to speak with Collins and Depree five minutes before they were shot, he said, to make sure they weren’t violating the open-container law. The boys told Hussein they were waiting for a ride, and Hussein, satisfied, went back inside.

Soon afterwards, Hussein heard the windows rattle.

“We went outside and both kids were on the ground,” Hussein recalled. He moved Collins and Depree inside the entrance and called 911.

Collins, who sustained life-threatening injuries, was shot in the abdomen and leg. Depree was also shot in the leg. They have recovered and are attending class, but did not want to comment.

Now, nearly four weeks after the incident, South Bend police are still searching for the shooter, and many Notre Dame students are wary about returning to the former Monday night hotspot.

“Clearly the shootings have changed people’s opinions,” said off-campus senior Dan Ott, who has been trying to recruit students to join him at Club 23 on Mondays.

“People don’t feel comfortable there,” Ott said. “Every time I try to tell someone, ‘You know, you should go to Club 23,’ they … say, ‘There’s no way I’m going there anymore.'”

Ott lives across the street from the bar and has known Hussein, who goes by “Mo,” “for a while.”

“Mo and Club 23 have been here for so long. … I’d hate to see it go out of business [because of] an incident that couldn’t have been stopped,” Ott said.

Meanwhile Hussein, who prides himself on owning a safe and friendly establishment, has lingering questions about what exactly happened the night of the shooting – and why Collins and Depree were targeted.

“This is not a violent place,” said John Veit, a Club 23 bartender and Notre Dame alumnus. “This is not a place where fights happen.”

Hussein said he spoke with investigators frequently in the days following the shooting, but they have not returned his phone calls recently.

“I want the police to find (the shooter),” Hussein said. “I want to know what’s really causing this.”

Veit said he has heard scores of rumors about the motives of the shooter.

“I’ve heard it was over a girl, a gang initiation, a random drive-by,” he said.

According to Matt Collins’ mother, Karen, the shooter – described as a short-haired black male of average build – fired at Collins and Depree several minutes after they refused to give him a ride. The shooter yelled out, “Thanks for the ride, you [expletive] Notre Dame students” before shooting from the passenger seat of an SUV as it drove by, Karen Collins said her son told her.

South Bend police have confirmed that a “harsh” conversation preceded the shooting and that it was not random, but they did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment on the investigation’s progress.

Hussein does not have cameras outside Club 23, and, unlike CJ’s Pub on Michigan Street, he does not pay South Bend Police officers to patrol it on busy weekends. But the bar does have bouncers, and Hussein said he can spots non-regulars immediately.

“When someone is not a regular … I keep my eye on them,” Hussein said. “If they’re misbehaving, I make them leave. I’m very protective of my clients.”

Contrary to campus rumor, the bar is not closing. Hussein said there had been talk of selling the bar to “a local,” but the deal recently fell through.