A criminal investigation is underway after a crowd surge left ten dead and hundreds injured at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival at NRG Park in Houston, Texas on Friday, Nov. 5.
The public is searching for answers following rapper Travis Scott’s annual Astroworld festival turned tragedy. The death toll of the event now stands at ten, the most recent victim, 9-year old Ezra Blount, dying from his injuries on Nov. 14. Blount is now the youngest among the fatalities, the oldest being 27. Another 25 have been hospitalized, and at least 300 were injured at the event. The second day of the festival was canceled, as the disaster raised concerns about whether the proper precautions were put in place to ensure the safety of attendees.
Before the main event, Mycah Hatfield, a reporter for ABC13 Houston posted to her Twitter account “As we were arriving at the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park right at 2:00, a stampede burst through the gates. Hundreds of people destroyed the VIP security entrance, bypassing the checkpoint. People were trampled. Some were detained.” The tweet was accompanied by a video depicting large groups of people knocking over metal detectors as they pushed through the security checkpoint, while security- some on foot and some on horseback- attempted to stop and detain some individuals.
Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse and attendee of the festival that has shared her first-hand accounts through social media and interviews on a variety of platforms, told CNN, “We had gotten to the stage that Travis Scott was performing about, like 6:30, about 3 hours before he was supposed to perform…and as time went on it just kept getting more crowded and more crowded and more crowded.”
Around 9:30, a countdown clock was made visible to the crowd, indicating the amount of time left before Scott was set to take the stage at 10 p. m. CST. “And all of a sudden people just compressed up against each other and were pushing forward and backward. And as the timer got closer to coming down to zero it just got worse and worse. I looked at my boyfriend, Sam, and I said ‘We have to get out of here,’” Eskins said.
According to Eskins, she began to feel constant pressure against her chest, back and sides, rendering her unable to move her arms as she grew faint, slipping in and out of consciousness.
Sensing imminent danger as Scott’s set began at 10 p. m. CST, many attendees began to make attempts to escape or signal for help. Attendee Seanna Faith McCarty, who can be seen in a video posted to Reddit trying to get the attention of a camera crew filming the show for Music on a platform overlooking the crowd.
McCarty, who chronicled her experience through an Instagram post, shared that when she managed to climb the platform to seek help, she was ignored by the crew. “I screamed over and over again. He wouldn’t even look in my direction, so I pushed the camera so it pointed to where I had just come from. He became angry, He called someone else up. I told him the same thing. People were dying, we needed to stop the music, we needed help, we needed attention towards the mass because I thought if only these people were aware, maybe they would do something.” McCarty also added that a guard grabbed her arm and threatened to “push [her] off the 15ft platform with no side if [she] didn’t get down.”
For a significant amount of time after the performance had begun, it seems that many of the attendees, film crews and security outside of the larger crowd were either unaware of or apathetic to the severity of the situation below within the barricades. In another video posted to Reddit, another attendee who managed to climb the barricades in an attempt to get help can be heard yelling, “I want to save somebody’s life. That’s somebody’s kid. I want to save them, bro.” In the video, attendees on the platform yell obscenities at him and tell him to calm down, implying that he is overreacting. One voice can be heard saying, “You just got to hope people in the pit will take care of ‘em.”
Within the barricades, many attendees recalled being rendered immobile, losing consciousness, falling on top of other people or other people falling on top of them. Many also believe that they had witnessed deaths during the event.
“I remember looking down and the person on the bottom was just laying there, and all I could do was I just slapped their face. I think they were unconscious. They might have passed at that point,” Attendee Jared Kuker, who fell on top of someone else in the commotion, told CNN.
At approximately 9:30 p.m. CST, officials began to receive the first reports of injuries at the event, and an ambulance could be seen within the crowd.
Around 9:38 p.m. CST, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said that a “mass casualty event had been declared, however, Scott continued to play through his set until 10:10 when the event was officially stopped by Live Nation. Houston police chief Troy Finner believed that ending the concert too soon would lead to rioting. “You cannot just close when you got 50,000 and over 50,000 individuals,” said Finner. “We have to worry about rioting, riots when you have a group that’s that young.”
What are the Possible Causes?
Since the tragedy occurred, officials, as well as the public, have been searching for answers to how the event escalated so quickly, and why it could not be de-escalated, and which parties are responsible. The FBI has joined the now-criminal investigation to find answers to these questions.
While many have expressed concerns over the fact that the venue was seemingly overcrowded, Peña maintains that this was not the case. At a news conference on Nov. 6, he told the press, “Based on the…assembly fire code calculation they could’ve theoretically had over 200,000 people, but it was limited to 50,000.” The festival, however, sold a total of 100,000 tickets, although it is still unclear how many purchasers were present at the venue that night. Based on the events earlier that day, it is also possible that some individuals that did not purchase tickets were present at the venue that night
Were Organizers Prepared?
Finner claims that there were “around 530” Houston Police Department officers provided for the event- more than double previous years- despite survivors’ assertions that they were unable to locate security when they needed help. According to a recent press conference held by Finner, the investigation will include a look into security personnel provided by the event promoter, Live Nation, so he is “not comfortable” with providing their numbers yet.
Additionally, officials are unsure if there was a plan in place if a crowd surge did occur. The 56-page Event Operations Plan (EOP) for the festival detailed protocols for emergency situations such as power outages, active shooters and bomb threats, however, there was no information regarding proactive or reactive measures for crowd surges.
Survivors have also mentioned witnessing the apparent lack of preparation on the part of the medical staff present at the event.
After being crowd-surfed to the perimeter of the crowd after passing out, Eskins made her way to a section of the crowd where a small group of medical staff seemed to be doing CPR on attendees. “…a few of them did not have experience in situations with people losing pulses. compressions were being done without a pulse check so ppl who had a pulse were getting CPR, but meanwhile there was not enough people to rotate out doing compressions on individuals that were actually pulseless. The medical staff didn’t have the tools to do their jobs,” Eskins said in an Instagram post.
Could Scott See the Surge?
After being met with scrutiny after the event, Scott took to Instagram to address claims that he enabled the tragedy, saying, “Anytime I can make out anything that’s going on, I stop the show and help them get the help they need.”
In one video that was posted to Reddit, Scott noticed that a fan had passed out, appeared to stop the music and said, “Somebody help him. Somebody passed out right here…Security help jump in right quick.”
Scott’s Track Record
This is not the first time Scott has come under fire for this kind of incident. In 2017, during his Terminal 5 show in New York, Scott encouraged fans to jump from a second-floor balcony and into the crowd, and many obliged. One concertgoer jumped from a third-floor balcony that night, breaking both legs. Kyle Green, another attendee was pushed off of the balcony by the surging crowd, resulting in permanent paralysis.
In 2015, Scott was arrested for telling the audience to climb over barricades during his Lollapalooza performance and plead guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct. After an Arkansas show in 2017, Scott was charged with inciting a riot, disorderly conduct and endangering the welfare of a minor after he “encouraged people to rush the stage and bypass the security protocols.”
So far, several attendees have filed lawsuits against Travis Scott and Live Nation.
At a press conference held on Nov. 12, Houston Attorney Ben Crump announced plans to file new lawsuits on behalf of 100 survivors.
One attendee, Manuel Souza, is suing the festival organizers for $1 million, and cites in his lawsuit that the incident was a “horrible- yet preventable tragedy.”
In efforts to remedy some of the aftermath of the tragedy, Scott has vowed to cover funeral costs for the families of the deceased. Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation also partnered with BetterHelp to provide counseling to survivors and those impacted by the event. Full refunds are being offered to anyone who attended the festival.
Rapper Roddy Rich, who performed at the festival, plans to donate all of his net earnings from the show to the families of the deceased, and other Astroworld performers such as Drake, SZA and Master P have made statements offering prayers and condolences to victims and their families.