A half-hour after rapper Travis Scott took the stage at 9 p.m. Friday, someone in the media pit called out for medical aid. In that instant, the Astroworld concert turned dangerous and surreal for Max Morbidelli, a 24-year-old former firefighter who was in the crowd with his sister. I jumped the barricade to find a girl who was unconscious, supine, and clearly cyanotic or blue,” said Morbidelli. He is an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician at Auburn University in Alabama. Morbidelli stated that the woman was not breathing and didn’t have any pulse. There were no medical personnel nearby. He started CPR.
” The scene was chaotic and unimaginable,” he stated. “The music was so loud. The lights were flashing. It was overwhelming. It was overwhelming.”
Morbidelli was caught up in unfolding chaos that had actually begun hours earlier when fans breached a barricade at the festival. Although police intervened to control the situation, medical staff were overwhelmed by the rapid increase in injuries that occurred when people flooded the festival again that night. Some concertgoers fell unconscious. Some were trampled. Some people climbed over fences to beg Scott to stop the show. By the time he left the stage after 10 p.m., bodies were being carried out on stretchers.
Eight people died, ranging in age from 14 to 27. Scores more were hurt and two dozen were taken to the hospital. The Houston medical examiner released names of the victims on Monday. However, autopsies are still being performed by local fire and police officials to determine what led to the tragedy. One security guard received naloxone after he reported being needle-pricked in his neck. This led to police launching both homicide investigations and narcotics investigations.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Scott and Astroworld organizers by those injured in the melee as questions have arisen over why the crowd surged and why it wasn’t contained during a day of unruliness. Authorities also wondered why Scott performed despite people falling unconscious and at least one ambulance appearing in front of him.
Before the concert, organizers had presented Houston police and first responders with two lengthy plans: A medical plan by New York City-based ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., and a security plan by Austin-based promoter ScoreMore Shows addressing potential emergencies.
“Based on the site’s layout and numerous past experiences, the potential for multiple alcohol/drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs, and the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation are identified as key concerns,” the security plan said.
“The key in properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open,” the report stated. “Crowd management techniques will be employed to identify potentially dangerous crowd behavior in its early stages in an effort to prevent a civil disturbance/riot.”
Concert safety consultant Paul Wertheimer has been studying such tragedies since 1979, when he was an on-site investigator the night 11 people were trampled to death at a Cincinnati concert by the Who. Wertheimer stated that the Astroworld plans did not mention crowd management. It is not addressed. It is not moshing, crowd surfing, or stage diving. Neither do the terms ‘crowd crush,’ ‘crowd surge,’ ‘crowd collapse’ or ‘panic’ appear anywhere.”
The medical plan estimated 70,000 would attend the concert, which was permitted for 50,000, according to Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena. He said the outdoor space at NRG Park where the festival was held adjacent to an arena could have held 200,000, but that the event was permitted using a “more conservative” capacity formula, as if it was being held indoors. He said that the venue was a “gray area” because of its capacity limits. “That’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Pena said it’s not clear how many people attended the concert. He requested a manifest of how many Astroworld tickets were sold, including 34,000 that were scanned, plus VIP and comp tickets. He said that others had been caught climbing over the fences in order to gain illegal entry. Astroworld was responsible for protecting those present. He had about 12 firemen on the site in case an emergency arose.
” “It’s not our job to go to these events to set up a station for first aid,” Pena stated.
ScoreMore and concert organizer Live Nation did not respond to requests for comment Monday. They released a statement saying they had provided video footage to investigators and were cooperating, “to get everyone the answers they are looking for.”
ParaDocs Worldwide Inc. released a statement disputing allegations it lacked medical staff and equipment. It said it has been “providing medical care for large venue events” for more than seven years, that their emergency medical staff have a dozen years experience on average and have successfully treated more than 300,000 people. The statement stated that we were ready for the venue’s size and expected audience. We also had a team of trained medics. The statement stated that there were plenty of medications, remedies and supplies and that the demand was not greater than the stock. The event was conducted in a consistent manner throughout the day. The multiple cardiac arrests occurred during the last set in the evening.”
Following the tragedy, Scott released a statement promising to pay for victims’ funerals, assist with the investigation and provide therapy to those affected. Scott stated in an Instagram video that he didn’t realize the severity of the emergency and that he stops concerts to ensure that injured fans are safe. He said that he could not imagine the gravity of the situation. But concert goers said that Astroworld security had deteriorated in the hours following Friday’s opening.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner tweeted that he met with Scott “for a few moments last Friday prior to the main event” and “expressed my concerns regarding public safety.” Finner said Scott’s head of security was also at the meeting, which was “brief and respectful.”
Houston disc jockey Michael Pierangeli, 30, who was attending Astroworld for the third time, arrived shortly before noon and said he noticed people sneaking in. Pierangeli stated that “a lot of people didn’t have wristbands” which meant they did not have tickets.
During afternoon shows, Pierangeli said the crowds felt unsafe.
” The vibe was just off,” Pierangeli said. “It wasn’t really mosh pits. People were pushing each other. People were being sucked in and walls were being built. I am usually in the mix. I just realized it was too much.”
By 2 p.m, hundreds of fans had breached a VIP entrance, just as they breached an area at the last Astroworld in 2019. Police managed to control the situation and decided not shut down any of it. They made some arrests there, and they dealt with that matter,” Pena stated.
At about 4: 30 p.m., Morbidelli, the EMT, said he started feeling overwhelmed by the density of the crowd as Houston rapper Don Toliver appeared on a smaller stage. He said that he grabbed his sister and pushed him out of the crowd to reach a barrier. “I lifted my sister up and over.”
Another man in the crowd said he forced his way to the front of the crowd, where security had to lift him over a fence to escape.
At about 8: 30 p.m., a countdown appeared on the concert’s big screen, ticking down the minutes to the show. As the crowd pressed in, Madeline Eskins, 23, an ICU nurse who lives north of Houston, fainted. Her boyfriend found someone to lift her in the air. The crowd then surfed her unconscious over a fence to a VIP area, where she was awoken by emergency personnel who were woefully unprepared.
People were trying to hop over the fence. People were trying to jump over the fence.
One young male’s eyes turned back in his head.
“Has ANYBODY taken a pulse?” Eskins shouted at a security guard and heard him reply no.
Eskins checked the man’s pulse and shone a flashlight in his eyes: no response. The security guard was instructed to bring him out of the VIP area and provide urgent medical attention. She said that she saw three people in cardiac arrest being brought in by other security guards. She said that only a handful of medical personnel were present on the scene, not enough to help the seriously injured.
When she asked for an automated external defibrillator, an electronic pad used to treat heart attacks, a medic said they only had one and gestured to a woman whose
shirt was ripped open as other medics gave CPR.
As Eskins performed CPR on a man who was struggling to breathe, Eskins asked a member the event medical staff for help. He didn’t know how to do it.
“Travis acknowledged that someone in the crowd needed an ambulance and was passed out,” Eskins said. “He just kept going.”
The chaos accelerated as Scott took to the stage and launched into his first track: “Escape Plan.”
“Within the first seconds of the first song, people began to drown — in other people,” Seanna Faith McCarty, 21, a festival-goer from the Houston suburb of Katy, wrote on Instagram. “The rush of people became tighter and tighter.”
Gasping for breath, McCarty and her friend, Taylor Grace, realized they had to get out. There was nowhere else to go. She wrote that as the shoving intensified, “people began choking one another as the mass swayed,” she wrote. “Our lungs were compressed between the bodies of those surrounding us.”
Seeing security just a few feet away in a walkway, McCarty and other festival-goers began to scream.
“Hundreds of people ripped their vocal cords apart screaming for help, but we were not heard,” she wrote. “One person fell or collapsed… A hole was created in the ground. It was like watching a Jenga Tower topple.”
McCarty said she lost sight of Grace and was pushed away from a rail and into the crowd of people, toward the edge of a sinkhole of people. She looked down at a man’s face — only to lose the face in what she described as a “floor of bodies” with “two layers of fallen people above them.”
At one point, McCarty lost her balance and nearly fell. McCarty shouted at a man who lifted her up. She was eventually able to reach the back of the crowd. She was pulled over by a man and spotted a cameraman standing on an elevated platform. His eyes were fixed on the stage.
She climbed up a ladder to point at the hole and told him that people were dying. He ordered her to get off the platform. Another man grabbed her arm and told her he would push her off the 15-foot platform if she didn’t get down.
” She wrote that she was disbelieveful. “There were only two people who could do anything. They had the ability to do anything. You can cut the camera, call backup, or pause. They did nothing.”
A video of the incident went viral over the weekend.
While Morbidelli was performing CPR on the woman who was breathless, two medical personnel in red shirts arrived with a backboard but no other life-saving equipment. He said that one tried to perform CPR on the woman, but it was obvious that he wasn’t experienced. He was doing it too quickly and in a shallow manner. He was even advised by a witness to slow down. After that, the medic shouted for someone who knew CPR. And I stepped in and took over again.”
“I wasn’t sure what their plan was, so I just snapped,” Morbidelli said. “I shouted to one the medics to get her on the backboard so that she could be moved quickly. We placed her on her left side and pulled the backboard underneath her. Then we rolled her along. The backboard was without straps. I was shocked.”
A group of officers in bulletproof vests arrived and attempted to lift the woman on the backboard over a barricade, he said.
“Usually, there’s someone who’s at the head of the patient coordinating the lifting and transport. None of this was possible. They placed her on the barricade. He said that there was a miscommunication between the people at both the top and bottom of the backboards. The patient fell. It was slow motion. “I watched her fall, and then she hit the ground. I just fell to my knees and started crying.”
The woman was later identified as 22-year-old Texas A&M senior Bharti Shahani. A spokeswoman for Houston Methodist Hospital said Tuesday that she is still in intensive care.
“Dropping her like that was an act of pure negligence. Morbidelli stated that this is the most serious thing that could happen to an emergency medical professional.
Pena said event medical staff were “quickly overwhelmed.” At 9: 38 p.m., he said local officials declared a mass casualty event, sending in SWAT, paramedics and several dozen ambulances to treat concertgoers who had collapsed. Scott performed.
“Everybody that’s there has a responsibility, even the artist. They have the stage, they have the microphone, they have the attention of the crowd,” Pena said, noting that, “at one point there was a pause, maybe when the ambulance was trying to drive through the crowd,” when Scott could have “turned on the lights and said I’m not going to continue the show.”
Instead, Pierangeli said he watched Drake join Scott onstage as an ambulance parked in the crowd trying to treat the injured. He said
“Kids danced on top of the ambulance while the ambulance was trying to save people.”
Nine-year-old Ezra Blount attended the concert with his father, Treston Blount, who was holding the boy on his shoulders.
“He kept saying he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe and he passed out,” said Treston Blount’s mother, Tericia Blount, 52, a retired nurse in Humble, Texas. She stated that Ezra was “trampled a lot.” He is currently suffering from severe injuries. He has swelling in the brain, most of his organs have been damaged, he had cardiac arrest.”
“He’s a survivor. Blount stated that God is helping him to pull through. “There are a lot of other people who are still in the hospitals and we’re thinking of them, too.”
Lina Hidalgo, chief executive for Houston’s Harris County which owns NRG Park, arrived at 1: 30 a.m. and met with families searching for lost loved ones. Since then, she has called for an independent investigation to determine what went wrong.
“There should be a more detailed plan somewhere,” she said. “Is there something more systemic that could be done better?” Does the plan need to be so vague? There needs to be a question of was this tragedy a result of circumstances beyond the control of those involved?”
Hidalgo noted that Astroworld organizers’ plans didn’t show where security guards were deployed or how many were in the crowd.
” I don’t know how fast everyone realized that people were in danger. She asked, “The plan states that people should be in communication. But were the communication lines open?” “There was recognition that there had been an accident at the concert. When did they know?”
Hidalgo said she spoke Monday with the county medical examiner, who told her it will take weeks to get toxicology results, determine the victims’ causes of death and whether there was foul play.
“There’s families, all of these people wanting answers: the community, the country. She said that they deserved them. “If there’s something that needed to be done better, that needs to be addressed ahead of other events.”
Randall Roberts contributed to this report.