HUSTON (AP) – Authorities said they would be watching videos, interviewing witnesses and checking concert logs to determine how eight people died at a Houston music festival when fans suddenly rushed to the stage to watch rapper Travis Scott.
City officials said Saturday they are in the early stages of an investigation into the pandemonium that unfolded Friday night at Astroworld, a two-day, sold-out NRG Park event attended by about 50,000 people. One participant said that when the timer clicked ahead of Scott’s performance, the crowd moved forward.
“As soon as he popped onto the stage, it was like the energy took over and everything went awry,” said concert-goer Niara Goode. “All of a sudden your ribs are broken. You have someone’s hand behind your neck. You try to breathe, but you cannot. “
Goods said she was trying so desperately to get out of here that she bit the man on the shoulder to get him to move.
The death toll ranged in age from 14 to 27, and 13 people were still hospitalized on Saturday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. He called the disaster “a tragedy on different levels” and said it was too early to draw conclusions about what went wrong. Dozens were injured.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, circumstances that could not be avoided,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo, a senior Harris County official. “But until we figure that out, I’ll be asking the tough questions.”
Experts who have studied crowd-jumping deaths say they are often the result of density – too many people packed into small spaces. The crowd often runs away either from the perceived threat or to something they want, such as the performer, before hitting an obstacle.
J. Keith Still, Visiting Professor of Crowd Science at the University of Suffolk in the United Kingdom, has acted as an expert witness in crowd trials. He said that he usually does not look at eyewitness reports in the early stages of incident analysis, because emotions can cloud the picture, and witnesses can only see what is immediately around them.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the venue could have accommodated 200,000 people under fire regulations, but the city has limited attendance to 50,000.
“The problem was with crowd control on stage, especially when the crowd began to rapidly approach the stage,” said Peña.
The deaths were reminiscent of The Who concert in 1979, when 11 people died as thousands of fans tried to enter the Cincinnati Waterfront Colosseum. Other past mass disasters include the death of 97 people at the overcrowded Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters associated with the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia.
People in the crowd in Houston reported being pushed and pushed during performances ahead of Scott’s performance.
Then, when Scott stepped onto the stage, the crowd seemed to rush forward, trying to get closer to the stage, ”said Nick Johnson, a high school student from the Houston suburb of Friendswood who attended the concert.
“Everyone around them fainted and everyone tried to help each other. But you just couldn’t move. There was nothing you could do. You can’t even raise your hands, ”Johnson said. “It got worse and worse.”
Johnson said fans started crushing each other and people started screaming. He said that it was almost 100 degrees Celsius in the crowd.
Scott seemed to know that something was happening in the crowd, but perhaps he didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, Johnson said. A social media post reveals fans who seem to be lining up dozens of rows off the stage chanting “stop the show” as Scott performs. Another post shows two fans climbing the stairs to the platform and asking the operator to do something.
In the video posted on social networks, one could see how Scott at some point stopped the concert and asked for help for someone from the audience: “Security, someone, help very quickly.”
In a tweet posted on Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what happened last night.” He pledged to work “with the Houston community to heal and support families in need.”
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer for the Associated Press, described the crowd’s “aggressive” atmosphere during the day due to the behavior of fans – pushing and dashing through barricades on stage, banning VIP areas and entrance areas.
“It was definitely the most chaotic festival environment I’ve ever been in,” Harris said. “I felt uncomfortable all day.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his department noticed visitors “leaving” at 9:30 pm and immediately notified the concert organizers. The event was canceled 40 minutes after discussions involving firefighters and officials from NRG Park.
Finner defended the amount of time it took to cancel the event.
“You can’t just close when you have 50,000 – over 50,000 – people, okay?” Finner said. “We need to worry about riots – riots – when you have such a young group.”
At some point, Gerardo Abad Garcia pressed himself so tightly to the crowd that he could not take his hands off his chest. While speaking before Scott’s performance, he began to worry about his safety.
“I just couldn’t breathe. I was squeezed, ”he said. The guard helped him and the others climb over the fence and get out.
He described the crowd during Scott’s performance as a wave that “went back and forth.” He said that some people tried to help those who had passed out on the ground, while other concertgoers seemed to ignore them and continued to watch the show.
Some viewers stated that barricades erected near the stage, separating different parts of the ticket holders, prevented fans from escaping.
Billy Nasser described the space formed by the stage barricade as a closet into which people were thrown and the door was closed. Joshua Robinson said the barricades created an area that was “too small and compact” for the number of people who were there.
Part of the investigation will include looking at how the area around the stage was designed, according to the fire chief.
The authorities do not disclose the cause of death, and the identity of the victims did not immediately.
The police chief said authorities are investigating reports of suspicious crowd activity, including a security officer who told police he felt a prick in the neck during the chaos and passed out while being examined by emergency responders. He was revived by the opioid antidote Narcan.
Scott, one of the biggest young music stars, founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018. The 29-year-old native of Houston has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. He has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she is pregnant with her second child.
Drake joined Scott onstage at the concert, which was aired live by Apple Music.
Associated Press Writers Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; Stan Chow in New York; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and Desiree Seals of Atlanta contributed to this report.