At least 50,000 people gathered for the third annual event on 5 November at the site of the former Houston Six Flags park. Signs of potential crowd-control issues came earlier in the day, when people were reportedly hopping turnstiles and fences to enter the sold-out festival without tickets – which led to a crowd size organisers were unprepared for and overwhelming medical units.
Festival-goers spoke of an almost manic energy in the audience as Travis Scott took to the stage at about 9pm.
As the crowd surged toward the stage, attendees as young as nine years old were crushed underfoot.
Other survivors described not being able to breathe, passing out, and only managing to stay upright with the help of people around them.
There was anger among the crowd members who tried to convince officials to call off the concert.
Cody Hartt told how he pleaded with festival staff for help but was told the performance couldn’t be stopped because it was being streamed live on Apple Music.
“Every call went unanswered. I was told, ‘we already know, and we can’t do anything to stop the show, they’re streaming live’,” Mr Hartt wrote on Twitter.
I screamed for help so many times, alerted security, asked everyone in the crowd if there was anyone who was CPR certified. Every call went unanswered. I was told, “we already know, and we can’t do anything to stop the show, they’re streaming live” Disgusting. #ASTROWORLDFest— Cody Hartt (@CodyHartt) November 6, 2021
Dozens of injured and traumatised festivalgoers have now filed lawsuits against Mr Scott and organisers Live Nation.
Joey Guerra, a music critic for the Houston Chronicle who was at the event, told BBC Radio 5 that Mr Scott stopped the show several times to point out people near the front who were in distress.
“I don’t think he was aware of the extent of what was going on.”
Authorities were notified at about 9.30pm about the escalating situation and the event was shut down by 10.10pm.
Houston Police Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite was near the front of the crowd at the time of the surge.
“Suddenly we had several people down on the ground, experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode,” Mr Satterwhite told the Associated Press. And so we immediately started doing CPR, and moving people right then, and that’s when I went and met with the promoters, and Live Nation, and they agreed to end early in the interest of public safety.”
Speaking to CNN, Bernon Blount said that his grandson, Ezra Blount, had gone to the concert to see “his favorite artist” and was with his father, Treston Blount.
Mr Blount said: “When my son went to the concert, he had my grandson on his shoulder.”
He added: “All the people pushed in and he could not breathe so he ended up passing out because of all the pressure that was being applied to his body. And when he passed out, Ezra fell off his shoulder and fell into the crowd.”
Friends and relatives of victims posted tributes online while a memorial sprung up in Houston and Travis Scott pledged to cooperate with authorities and help families who’d lost loved ones.
Who are the victims?
The youngest victim has been identified as nine-year-old Ezra Blount, who was on life support following the tragic concert.
Another young victim was John Hilgert, 14, a high school freshman and athlete. The boy’s school district, located west of Houston, released a statement confirming his death.
It said: “Our hearts go out to the student’s family and to his friends and our staff at Memorial. This is a terrible loss, and the entire MHS family is grieving today. Please keep the student’s family in your thoughts and prayers as they face this tragedy. We will make counselors available to students next week to offer any help and support needed.”
Another young student to perish at the concert chaos was 16-year-old Brianna Rodriguez, according to ABC13, who reported that the high school junior had a passion for dance.
Ms Rodriguez’s sister shared an emotional tribute on Facebook, writing: “Dancing was her passion and now she’s dancing her way to heaven’s pearly gates.”
The oldest victim was identified as Danish Baig. The man’s younger brother, Basil Mirza Baig, told The Houston Chronicle that his sibling had died in an ambulance after being crushed while trying to save his sister-in-law.
Another victim, Rodolfo Angel Peña, 23, died of cardiac arrest at the concert, according to USA Today. Mr Peña was a student and aspiring model who intended to become a border patrol agent one day, according to the newspaper.
His sister, Jennifer, called him “the sweetest person, friendly, outgoing.”
“He had many friends because he was always there for everyone,” she told the Laredo Morning Times, adding that he “was a big fan of Travis. He loved his music.”
Relatives were first notified simply that her brother had been hurt, she said - and it wasn’t until hours later, when her mother arrived in Houston, that they found out he had been killed.
Franco Patino, a 21-year-old college student originally from Naperville, Illinois, also died at the Texas concert, according to the student newspaper of the University of Dayton, where he was a student. He was attending the show to celebrate the birthday of his best friend, Jacob Jurinek - whose family on Sunday confirmed he had also been killed.
Mr Patino was a mechanical engineering technology major with a minor in human movement biomechanics, in addition to being a member of a Latino fraternity at the school, which confirmed his passing.
Mr Patino and Mr Jurinek were both graduates of Neaqua High School in Naperville, which is a western suburb of Chicago. Mr Jurinek was a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and described himself on his LinkedIn profile as “a creative mind with a knack for graphic design. A photoshop expert in the making, with a lot of hands on experience for someone still in college. A student studying to earn a journalism degree with a specialization in advertisement at Southern Illinois University. Also a student intern with SIU’s athletic media team, helping to design graphics for digital and print media, and manage social media accounts for all sports at the university.”
He added that he hoped to “take my talents to the next level, and one day create graphics for a professional sports team.”
Mr Jurinek’s devastated family confirmed his death alongside his friend Mr Patino.
“Jake was beloved by his family and by his seemingly countless number of friends for his contagious enthusiasm, his boundless energy, and his unwavering positive attitude,” they said. “He was an avid fan of music, an artist, a son, a best friend to many, and a loving and beloved cousin, nephew, and grandson. Always deeply committed to his family, he was affectionately known as ‘Big Jake’ by his adoring younger cousins, a name befitting of his larger-than-life personality.”
“We are all devastated and are left with a huge hole in our lives,” said his father, Ron Jurinek, according to ABC7 Chicago. “Right now, we ask for the time and space for our family to process this tragic news and begin to heal. We’re comforted by the fact that the hundreds of people Jake touched over the years will carry a piece of his spirit with them.”
What authorities are saying
At least two investigations, one criminal, are underway following Friday night’s tragedy.
Investigators are expected to examine the design of safety barriers and the area around the stage and the use of crowd control in determining what led to the crush of spectators at the music festival.
City officials said they were in the early stages of investigating what caused the pandemonium.
Steven Adelman, vice president of the industry group Event Safety Alliance, which was formed after the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair in 2011 killed seven people, helped write industry guidelines widely used today.
Besides looking at safety barriers and whether they correctly directed crowds or contributed to the crush of spectators, Mr Adelman said, authorities will look at whether something incited the crowd besides Scott taking the stage.
Mr Adelman said another question is whether there was enough security there, noting there is a nationwide shortage of people willing to take low-wage, part-time security gigs.
Houston police and fire department officials said their investigation would include reviewing video taken by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips from people at the show.
Officials also planned to review the event’s security plan and various permits issued to organisers to see whether they were properly followed.
In addition, investigators planned to speak with Live Nation representatives, Scott and concertgoers.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña and other officials held a sombre news conference in the early hours of Saturday.
“The crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries,” he said. “People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic.”
Officials transported 17 people to hospitals, including 11 who were in cardiac arrest. Many people were also treated at the scene at a field hospital that had been set up. About 300 people were examined at that site throughout the day, he said.
A reunification centre was set up at a Houston hotel for family members who had not been able to reach festivalgoers. Authorities were looking to connect families with festivalgoers who were transported to the hospital, “some as young as 10” years old, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, calling the incident an “extremely tragic night.”
“Our hearts are broken,” she said. “People go to these events looking for a good time. It’s not the kind of event where you expect to find out about fatalities.”
Investigators are looking into “what caused, one, the issue of the crowd surge, and two, what prevented people from being able to escape that situation,” according to Mr Peña.
Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner said he was “sending investigators to the hospitals because we just don’t know.
“We’re going to do an investigation and find out, because it’s not fair to producers, to anybody else involved, until we determine what happened, what caused the surge,” he told The New York Times.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Saturday following the concert tragedy that “nothing is off the table, in terms of persons who were there, people who may have fainted ... it is way too preliminary now to draw any conclusions.”
The mayor released all permits relating to the festival on Tuesday, “in the interest of transparency and amid great public interest.”
“I continue to pray for the families of those who have died, and on behalf of the City, I send my best wishes to those who are recovering,” Mayor Turner said.
Both Travis Scott and Houston authorities have extended their condolences to the families of the victims - with HPD Chief Finner urging the rapper’s fans - who tend to be young: “Kids and young individuals that were out there: If you saw something, say something.
“This is now a criminal investigation that’s going to involve our homicide division as well as narcotics,” Chief Finner said. “And we’re going to get down to the bottom of it.”
Houston authorities on Saturday urged the public to come forward with information and not to buy into theories spreading on social media - while reiterating that they were ruling out nothing as they proceed with their investigation.
“One of the narratives was some individual was injecting other individuals with drugs,” Chief Finner said Saturday at a news conference. “We do have a report from a security officer ... that he was reaching over the restrain or grab a citizen and he felt a prick in his neck.”
According to Chief Finner, that officer fell unconscious and was revived with Narcan, which is administered to counteract opioid overdoses.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said he could not provide an exact number of Narcan administrations but there were “several” or “many where they did administer Narcan on scene.”
On Tuesday Chief Pena said his agency would fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department’s investigation into the Astroworld tragedy because the families of the victims deserve answers.
“We will be cooperating fully in terms of our resources and what we did in that operation, everything will be turned over to Houston Police Department so they can conduct a fair, thorough investigation,” Chief Pena told CNN.
The Houston firefighters union has now complained that its members were not in radio contact with private medical providers hired by the event organisers and had only been provided with mobile phone numbers.
According to the Saturday press conference, more than 520 HPD officers were working at the concert, augmented by 755 private security provided by Live Nation. The venue for the festival - which was started by rapper and Houston native Mr Scott - had experienced crowd control issues previously, but authorities insisted any missteps in the past had been corrected.
HPD Chief Finner said Live Nation was handing over footage later on Saturday to aid in the investigation.
Security apparently identified issues around 9.30pm on Friday and called for the event to be shut down, with nearly everyone removed from the venue by 10.10pm
“When you have a group that that’s young ... I think that part was pretty good,” Chief Finner said Saturday.
Contemporary Services Corp., headquartered in Los Angeles, was responsible for security staff at the festival, according to county records in Texas, AP reported. Representatives for the company — which advertises online as being “recognized worldwide as the pioneer, expert and only employee owned company in the crowd management field” — did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.
The FBI has also reportedly joined the criminal investigation into the concert tragedy.
On Tuesday, it emerged that Astroworld Festival staff were instructed to refer to dead concertgoers as ‘Smurfs’ in the event of a fatality, according to a leaked safety and emergency response plan.
The 55-page document, obtained by CNN, informs staff how to respond to robberies, active shooters, terror threats and other emergencies.
What is a crowd surge?
This tragic type of event is not uncommon, calling to mind everything from the 1989 Hillsborough disaster – which left 97 people dead after a football match in Sheffield, England – to the 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100 people and injured 230.
“At occupancies of about 7 persons per square meter the crowd becomes almost a fluid mass,” John Fruin, a retired research engineer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, wrote in a 1993 paper, The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters.
“Shock waves can be propagated through the mass sufficient to lift people off of their feet and propel them distances of 3 m (10 ft) or more. People may be literally lifted out of their shoes, and have clothing torn off. Intense crowd pressures, exacerbated by anxiety, make it difficult to breathe.”
The New Yorker published an extensive exploration of crowds and how to keep them safe in 2011.
“Some people die standing up; others die in the pileup that follows a ‘crowd collapse,’ when someone goes down, and more people fall over him,” the article – titled Crush Point – found.
“’Compressional asphyxia’ is usually given as the cause of death in these circumstances.”
The piece continued: “In the literature on crowd disasters, there is a striking incongruity between the way these events are depicted in the press and how they actually occur.
“In popular accounts, they are almost invariably described as ‘panics.’ The crowd is portrayed as a single, unified entity, which acts according to ‘mob psychology’—a set of primitive instincts (fear, followed by flight) that favor self-preservation over the welfare of others, and cause ‘stampedes’ and ‘tramplings.’
“But most crowd disasters are caused by ‘crazes’—people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear, and, if you’re caught up in a crush, you’re just as likely to die on your feet as under the feet of others, squashed by the pressure of bodies smashing into you.”
Kylie Jenner under fire for Instagram video
The Astroworld disaster has been widely documented on social media, with videos showing a crush of people, fleeing festivalgoers and even people climbing media scaffolding to beg with cameramen for help or scream to staff for aid (sometimes to no avail.)
But Kylie Jenner has been heavily criticised for sharing tone-deaf content. The reality star, beauty mogul and famed member of the Kardashian clan, and has a three-year-old daughter with Travis Scott, and they are expecting their second child. Ms Jenner was at the concert with their toddler, Stormi, and posted an Instagram story of an ambulance attempting to make its way through the massive Astroworld crowd.
The footage appeared to still be live on her Instagram page the morning after the concert, visible to her 280million followers. It was met with swift backlash, with many calling the move tasteless.
“Omg i literally can’t, kylie posted an instagram story of the concert and you can CLEARLY SEE THE PARAMEDICS TRYING TO GET THROUGH LIKE WTF,” one Twitter user wrote.
Ms Jenner later said in a statement that neither she nor Mr Scott were aware of the medical emergency unfolding during the show.
What has Travis Scott said?
Following reports of the deaths in the crowd, Mr Scott said that he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.”
“My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival.
“Houston PD has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life.
“I am committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
Mr Scott has also offered a full refund for concertgoers at Astroworld and has offered to pay for the funerals of the fans who died. A press release put out on Saturday said Scott will pay the funeral expenses for those who died at the event in Houston, Texas and will also offer mental health support to those affected by the events.
It read: “Travis Scott...will cover all funeral costs and provide further aid for individuals affected by the November 5th tragedy at Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas.
“In addition, Travis has partnered with BetterHelp to supply free one-on-one online therapy, and is working closely with NAMI, MHA National, and MHA of Greater Houston (Mental Health America) to direct all those in need to proper mental health services. Travis remains in active conversations with the city of Houston, law enforcement and local first responders to respectfully and appropriately connect with the individuals and families of those involved.
“These are the first of many steps Travis plans on taking as a part of his personal vow to assist those affected throughout their grieving and recovery process.”
It continued: “As part of the emotional support efforts, BetterHelp, in conjunction with Travis, will be offering free one-on-one sessions with a licensed therapist for those who sign up using their dedicated link.
“BetterHelp will also direct those in immediate need to NAMI, who has a dedicated national hotline, available Monday - Friday from 10am to 10pm ET. This hotline can be reached at 1-844-CJ NAMI 1 (844-256-2641). NAMI’s Greater Houston chapter will direct incoming callers to the BetterHelp portal established via this partnership and ensure access to various counselling services, psycho-education, community-based healing circles, support groups, and other related services.”
It concluded: “Travis is grateful to be working alongside BetterHelp, a renowned mental health service provider and to be able to quickly provide this fundamental care and support. Further relief efforts to be announced in the coming days and weeks.”
Scott has also been replaced by Post Malone as the headline act for Saturday at the Day N Vegas Festival this weekend, the event’s promoters have confirmed.
The change comes after Scott pulled out of the event following the deadly crowd surge at his Astroworld concert.
He was “too distraught to play”, Variety had reported earlier on Monday.
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