HOUSTON — Authorities said they would watch video, interview witnesses and review concert protocols to determine how eight people died at a Houston music festival when fans suddenly surged toward the stage to watch rapper Travis Scott.
Officials from the city said that they are still investigating Friday’s chaos at Astroworld. This sold-out event was held in NRG Park and had a total attendance of 50,000. One attendee said that as a timer clicked down to the start of Scott’s performance, the crowd pushed forward.
“As soon as he jumped out on the stage, it was like an energy took over and everything went haywire,” concertgoer Niaara Goods said. “All of a sudden, your ribs are being crushed. You have someone’s arm in your neck. You’re trying to breathe, but you can’t.”
Goods stated that she was desperate to leave and bit an older man’s shoulder in order to do so.
Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the victims ranged from age 14 to 27 and that 13 were still being treated Saturday. He called the disaster “a tragedy on many different levels” and said it was too early to draw conclusions about what went wrong. Numerous others were also injured.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official. “But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”
Experts who have studied deaths caused by crowd surges say they are often a result of density — too many people packed into a small space. The crowd will often run away from perceived danger or towards something they desire, like a performer before reaching a barrier.
G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the United Kingdom’s University of Suffolk, has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds. He said he usually does not look at eyewitness reports in the early stages of analyzing an incident because emotions can cloud the picture, and witnesses can see only what’s immediately around them.
Based on fire codes, the venue could have held 200,000 people, but city officials limited the attendance to 50,000, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
“It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd began to surge toward the stage,” Peña said.
The deaths called to mind a 1979 concert by The Who where 11 people died as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. Past crowd catastrophes included the death of 97 people at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield in England in 1989, as well numerous other disasters related to the Saudi Arabian annual hajj.
People in the Houston crowd reported lots of pushing and shoving during the performances leading up to Scott’s set.
Scott went on stage. The crowd rushed to the front trying to reach Scott. Nick Johnson was a friend from Friendswood High School who attended the concert.
“Everyone was passing out around you, and everyone was trying to help each other. But you just couldn’t move. You couldn’t do anything. You can’t even pick your arms up,” Johnson said. “It just got worse and worse.”
Johnson stated that fans began to smash each other and started shouting. Johnson said that it was like being 100 degrees inside the crowd.
Johnson suggested that Scott was aware of what was happening in the crowd but might not have fully grasped the seriousness of the situation. A social media posting shows fans who appear to be dozens of rows from the stage chanting “stop the show” while Scott is performing. A second post features two people climbing up a ladder on a platform, asking the cameraman for help.
On video posted to social media, Scott could be seen stopping the concert at one point and asking for aid for someone in the audience: “Security, somebody help real quick.”
In a tweet posted Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.” He pledged to work “together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer for The Associated Press, described an “aggressive” crowd atmosphere throughout the day because of the way fans were behaving — pushing and rushing the stage barricades and prohibited VIP and admission areas.
“It was definitely the most chaotic festival environment that I’ve been in,” Harris said. “I felt uneasy all day.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his department noticed attendees “going down” at 9:30 p.m. and immediately notified concert organizers. After discussions with officials from NRG Park and the fire department, the event was canceled 40 minutes later.
Finner supported the length of time required to cancel the event.
“You cannot just close when you’ve got 50,000 — over 50,000 — individuals, OK?” Finner said. “We have to worry about rioting — riots — when you have a group that’s that young.”
Gerardo Abad Garcia was so pressed into the crowd at one stage that his arms could no longer be lifted from his chest. During the performance that came before Scott’s, he started getting concerned for his safety.
“I just couldn’t breathe. I was being compressed,” he said. His security guard assisted him, along with other people, to scale a fence to get out.
He described the crowd during Scott’s set as a wave that was “going forward and backward.” He said some people tried to help those who were passed out on the ground, while other concertgoers seemed to ignore them and continued watching the show.
Some members of the audience claimed that barricades were placed near the stage to prevent ticket holders from fleeing.
Billy Nasser described a staging barricade area as “a closet” that was used to hold people and then closed the door. Joshua Robinson said the barricades created an area that “was just way too small and compact” for the number of people there.
According to the chief of fire, part of the investigation will be looking at how the area around stage was constructed.
Authorities didn’t disclose causes of death and those who died were not identified immediately.
According to the police chief, authorities are investigating suspicious activity among the crowd. One security guard told police that he experienced a pinched nerve in his neck and then lost consciousness as he was being checked by emergency responders. The opioid antidote Narcan saved his life.
Scott, one of music’s biggest young stars, founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018. He has received eight Grammy nominations. He has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she’s pregnant with their second child.
Scott was joined onstage by Drake. The concert was also livestreamed via Apple Music.
This report was contributed by Ryan Pearson, Stan Choe and Desiree seals from Atlanta.