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Astroworld Tragedy: A Look at What Happened

Ten people lost their lives with hundreds injured at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival in Texas after concertgoers surged toward the stage on November 5th.

The people who died were between the ages of 14 to 27. Moreover, twenty-five people were hospitalized. Eight were confirmed dead on November 5, the ninth victim died on November 10, and the tenth victim, a 9-year-old, died on November 14.

According to the authorities, some people appeared to have been trampled at the show which was attended by about 50,000 people. Houston officials vowed to provide answers to how this tragic event unfolded as the Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “This is a very, very active investigation, and we will probably be at it for quite some time to determine what exactly happened.”

This devastating event transpired on the first night of rapper Travis Scott’s two-day Astroworld festival in Houston during his headlining set around 9:30 pm, as per Vulture.

Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner added, “This is now a criminal investigation that’s going to involve our homicide division, as well as narcotics, and we’re going to get down to the bottom of it.”

What happened at the Astroworld music festival?

According to the Independent, at least 50,000 people gathered for the third annual event on 5 November at the site of the former Houston Six Flags park. The 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”. This led to the size of the crowd that the organizers were not prepared for and overwhelming medical units.

Festival-goers spoke of almost manic energy in the audience as Scott took to the stage at about 9 PM, and as the crowd surged toward the stage, attendees as young as nine years old were crushed underfoot. Furthermore, other survivors described not being able to breathe. They were passing out and were only managing to stay upright with the help of people around them.

The statements from the public-safety authorities, as well as witness accounts at the event, provide some information about what happened. “The crowd for whatever reason began to push and surge towards the front of the stage, which caused the people in the front to be compressed — they were unable to escape that situation,” Houston fire chief Sam Peña told CNN.

There was anger among the crowd members who tried to convince officials to call off the concert and one of them, Cody Hartt posted a tweet about how he pleaded with festival staff for help. However, Hartt was told the performance couldn’t be stopped because it was being streamed live.

“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 wrote on Twitter.

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Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse, was at the festival. She said the situation escalated as a countdown clock neared the moment when the rapper Travis Scott would appear and that she and her boyfriend arrived at the stage around 6:03 PM to land a spot near the front. About half an hour before Travis took the stage, the crowd got more and more packed.

“All of a sudden, people come pressed up against each other, pushed forward and backward. As the timer got closer,” Eskins told CNN, “it got worse and worse.” Eskins added, “I had constant pressure on my chest … I was being squeezed … Right when he started performing his first song, I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘We have to get out of here.’”

“Once he started, all hell broke loose. All of what is to be 50,000 people ran to the front, compressing everyone together with the little air available,” another concertgoer, Alexis Guavin, told CNN. “Luckily, I have moshpit experience and am six feet tall so I could at least put my head up to breathe, but others [were]not so fortunate.”

Dozens of injured and traumatized attendees have now filed lawsuits against Scott as well as the organizers – Live Nation, The Independent reported.

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Joey Guerra is a music critic for the Houston Chronicle who was at the event. Guerra told BBC Radio 5 that Scott stopped the show several times to point out people near the front who were in distress, saying, “I don’t think he was aware of the extent of what was going on.”

Authorities were notified at about 9.30 PM about the escalating situation and the event was shut down by 10.10 PM.

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,” Satterwhite told the Associated Press. Larry added: “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. 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.”

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According to Vulture, some people in the audience said concertgoers “couldn’t get out of the packed crowd when things started to go awry”. Eskins recalled that she and her boyfriend couldn’t quickly leave the area, “I just remember looking up, passing out, and then I was in and out for a little while,” she remarked. “I didn’t see anything, but I could kind of feel what was going on. Someone pulled me over a fence, and then I passed out again.”

According to the Associated Press, some concertgoers said that barricades near the stage, meant to divide different types of ticket holders, “kept attendees from escaping”. Billy Nasser, who was at the show, said there was an area formed by one of these stage barricades that was like a closet and Nasser reportedly said that people were thrown into the closetlike zone and that the door was closed, according to Vulture.

Joshua Robinson told the AP that the barricades created a space that was “just way too small and compact” for all the people there. Authorities have claimed that the venue met inspectors’ criteria for safe entry and exit.

Peña claimed that the venue could have handled 200,000 people under city fire codes. Authorities limited that number to 50,000 for the performance. (According to reports, 100,000 tickets went on sale for this year’s event; it’s unclear how many people were at the venue at the time of the incident given that some non–ticket holders had breached barriers earlier in the day, Vulture reported.) 

Officials said that safety precautions had been taken, claiming, “We had inspectors to ensure that the means of egress, the doors in and out of that venue, were maintained open and unobstructed.” They also claimed, “These injuries did not occur as people would try to exit the venue. And that was evident by the fact that once the event was terminated, [it]was cleared out within the hour … What we’re looking into is what caused the crowd surge.”

A video shared on Twitter appeared to show a person climbing onto a platform where a camera operator was filming (the event was live-streamed on Apple Music). They were asking for the show to stop, yelling that people were dying.

Another video posted on the same social media platform appears to show attendees dancing on — and blocking — an ambulance that was trying to get into the crowd. “It does not seem like those fans knew what was going on or why the vehicles were trying to get into the crowd, according to the Daily Beast,” reported Vulture.

 

Friends and relatives of victims posted tributes online as a memorial sprung up in Houston. According to the Independent, Travis Scott pledged to cooperate with authorities and help families who’d lost loved ones.

 

Who were the victims?

Ezra Blount

The youngest victim has been identified, Ezra Blount, a 9-year-old who had been in a medically-induced coma since the festival, and died after days on life support. Blount was a huge Travis Scott fan, according to his family, his father – Treston Blount told ABC 13: “He was so stoked.” “He was ready to go.” Ezra was sitting on Treston’s shoulders, near the back of the concert, when the crowd rushed the stage and according to Treston, he passed out and Ezra fell to the ground.

“Ezra’s death is absolutely heartbreaking,” the family’s attorney said in a statement, according to Vulture. “We are committed to seeking answers and justice for the Blount family. But we stand in solidarity with the family, in grief, and in prayer.” Blount’s grandfather told Rolling Stone that he wants to see some accountability for the tragedy that befell his grandson. “For him to have the injuries he has, I can’t help picturing in my mind what he had to go through to get those injuries,” he said. “Someone should be held responsible.”

John Hilbert

Another young victim was John Hilgert, 14, a high school freshman and athlete and his 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.”

Brianna Rodriguez

A 16-year-old victim was Brianna Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a junior at Houston’s Heights High School and her family said: “Gone from our sights, but never from our hearts. It is with profound sadness we lay to rest our beloved Brianna Rodriguez. Brianna was one of the victims from the Astroworld event,” in a GoFundMe. “She was a beautiful vibrant 16-year-old high school junior at Heights HS in Houston TX. Dancing was her passion and now she’s dancing her way to heaven’s pearly gates. Anything to help the family will be greatly appreciated.”

Danish Baig

The oldest victim was identified as Danish Baig, a 27-year-old. Danish died while trying to protect his sister-in-law, who survived. “He was [an]innocent young soul who would always put others before him. He was a hardworking man who loved his family and took care of us. He was there in a heartbeat for anything. He always had a solution to everything,” his brother, Basil Baig, told the station.

Axel Acosta

Axel Acosta was a 21-year-old, who had traveled from Washington State to Astroworld to see Scott perform, his father, Edgar Acosta, told ABC13, as per Vulture. His family said he had been studying computer science at Western Washington University and Edgar Acosta said at a press conference Monday afternoon that he was “devastated” by the loss of his son.

The family’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, said that victims, including Axel, died from “compressive asphyxiation” — that is, they couldn’t breathe because of all the weight on them and “This is exactly what happened to Axel,” Buzbee said in a press conference.

“Defendant’s gross negligence created such significant pressure onto his body that he could not breathe. The air was literally slowly squeezed out of him, sending his heart into cardiac arrest,” stated Buzbee. “When he collapsed, concertgoers trying to escape their own suffocation, caused by the crowd rush, trampled over his body like a piece of trash,” Buzbee continued.

Rodolfo Angel Peña

Another victim, Rodolfo Angel Peña, 23, died of cardiac arrest at the concert, according to USA Today, and 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. It wasn’t until hours later when her mother arrived in Houston, and that is when they found out he had been killed.

Franco Patiño

21-year-old Franco Patiño was a student at the University of Dayton. Franco was studying mechanical engineering, the TV station said. “He was talking to everyone how excited he was to see, to be there, to go,” said Julio Patiño, the victim’s brother. “He was saving up money to go with his best friend Jacob.”

Jacob “Jake” E. Jurinek

Jacob “Jake” E. Jurinek, 20, was studying art and media at Southern Illinois University and his father, Ron Jurinek, reportedly said: “We are all devastated and are left with a huge hole in our lives,” in a statement to ABC. “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.”

Bharti Shahani

22-year-old Bharti Shahani had been in critical condition for days after the festival. Bharati died on the evening of November 10. Her family’s attorney announced the same on November 11.

Shahani attended the festival with her sister and cousin. However, she became separated from them, her cousin Mohit Bellani told a local ABC affiliate. “Once one person fell, people started toppling like dominos,” Bellani said. “It was like a sinkhole. People were falling on top of each other … There were like layers of bodies on the ground, like two people thick. We were fighting to come up to the top and breathe to stay alive.”

Shahani had multiple heart attacks during the crowd surge. The first responders later dropped her head while transporting her away, her family confirmed and she was put on a ventilator after the festival. Her family previously said she had no brain activity. Bharti was a senior at Texas A&M University. She was studying electronics systems engineering. Shahani had recently secured an internship for next summer.

Madison Dubiski

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that 23-year-old Madison Dubiski was among those killed at Astroworld. “She was super bright, uplifting, and just an all-around sweet girl,” Lauren Vogler, Dubiski’s former classmate, told the newspaper. “I cheered with her when we were younger, and she was always so encouraging. She was definitely the life of the party and loved by so many people.”

 

What are the authorities are saying?

According to The Independent, at least two investigations, one criminal, are underway following the tragedy and the Investigators are expected to examine the design of safety barriers. This will also include the area around the stage and the use of crowd control in determining what led to the crush of spectators at the music festival, as per The Independent.

Travis Scott, image from Unsplash.

City officials said they were in the early stages of investigating what caused the pandemonium.

Steven Adelman is the vice president of the industry group Event Safety Alliance. This group was formed after the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair in 2011 that killed seven people. Adelman 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, Adelman said, authorities will look at whether something incited the crowd besides Scott taking the stage. Steven 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. They would also review various permits issued to organizers to see whether they were properly followed and in addition to this, investigators planned to speak with Live Nation representatives, Travis Scott, and concertgoers.

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Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña and other officials held a somber news conference in the early hours of Saturday where he said: “The crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries.” “People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic,” Peña added.

Officials transported seventeen people to hospitals, including eleven who were in cardiac arrest and 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 center was set up at a Houston hotel. This was for family members who had been unable to reach festival-goers as Authorities were looking to connect families with festival-goers 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 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 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 that 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 restraint or grabbing a citizen and he felt a prick in his neck.”

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According to Chief Finner, that officer fell unconscious. The officer 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 the 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 organizers. They had only been provided with mobile phone numbers.

According to the Saturday press conference, more than 520 HPD officers were working at the concert. It was augmented by 755 private security provided by Live Nation. The venue for the festival – which was started by rapper and Houston native Travis Scott had experienced crowd control issues previously. However, the 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 9.30 PM on Friday. They called for the event to be shut down, with nearly everyone removed from the venue by 10.10 PM. “When you have a group 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, as per The Independent.

According to The Independent, 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, as per The Independent. The 55-page document was obtained by CNN. It informs staff how to respond to robberies, active shooters, terror threats and other emergencies.

 

What was Travis Scott’s response?

Following reports of the deaths in the crowd, Rapper Travis 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.”

Scott has offered a full refund for the attendees at Astroworld. A press release put out on Saturday said Scott will pay the funeral expenses for those who died at the event in Houston, Texas. In addition to this, he will also offer mental health support to those affected by the events.

 

The statement 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 10 am to 10 pm 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 counseling 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.”

Travis Scott and the Astroworld festival organizers sued for $750 million

As per BBC, the family of the twenty-one-year-old Axel Acosta, one of the 10 victims, are among those bringing the legal case in the US. It claims Scott and guest star Drake kept performing despite accounts of “lifeless bodies being passed through the crowd in full view of the stage”.

They have sued Travis Scott and other organizers for USD 750 Million (INR 55645387500.00), reported BBC.

Scott has said he was not aware of the tragedy until coming off stage and last week the rapper said he was “distraught” by the events in Houston, Texas, on 5 November. He promised to “provide aid” to every affected family.

Fellow rapper Drake has said his “heart is broken for the families and friends of those who lost their lives and for anyone else who is suffering”.

 

According to the BBC, papers filed in the US also name festival promoters Live Nation; technology giant Apple, which streamed the concert; Scott’s record labels Epic and Cactus Jack; the operators of Houston’s NRG Park venue; and firms who provided security and medical services.

The case claims that Acosta was “crushed by the incited, unruly and out-of-control crowd” and lay dying while the music continued for almost 40 minutes, as per BBC.

“Certainly, neither Travis Scott nor his handlers, entourage, managers, agents, hangers-on, promoters, organizers or sponsors cared enough about Axel to make even a minimal effort to keep him and the others at the concert safe,” it said.

After the concert, Scott said on Instagram that he “could just never imagine the severity of the situation” while he was performing.

Live Nation said in a statement: “We continue to support and assist local authorities in their ongoing investigation so that both the fans who attended and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will address all legal matters at the appropriate time.”

Other defendants did not respond directly to requests for comment from US media, reports BBC. Dozens of cases have already been filed by survivors and families of those who died and in addition to this, Lawyer Tony Buzbee said he intends to file another case soon with 100 more plaintiffs.

 

Featured Image adapted via TODAY.

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