Families and friends mourn Astroworld victims

HOUSTON — 

Family and friends gathered Sunday to mourn the first of eight music fans who died in a crowd surge at hip-hop star Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston on Friday night as a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the deaths proceeded.

At a funeral at Colleyville Masjid in the Dallas suburbs, Danish Baig, 27, an AT&T district manager who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and attended high school in Euless, Texas, was remembered by relatives as a joyous, devout Muslim who loved to spend time with family.

“He was an amazing soul,” Basil Mirza Baig, 25, said of his brother in a telephone interview after the burial. “His smile would light up the room. He had the biggest heart, the biggest heart in the room.”

Basil Baig, who attended the concert with Danish and his fiancee, Olivia Swingle, said his brother died trying to protect Swingle as people in the crowd stomped on her and punched her in the face, arms and legs.

A memorial in Houston for the Astroworld victims.

A memorial in Houston for the Astroworld victims.

(Robert Bumsted / Associated Press)

“He was there one second and then gone the next,” Baig said, noting that he was in front of his brother and Swingle and got separated in the crowd. “My sister-in-law fell down; he was trying to save my sister-in-law and then the next second they were gone. The crowd was just pushing, shoving, hitting, doing horrendous things.”

“I wasn’t able to find them,” he said between sobs. “I looked all over the place. And I wasn’t able to find them.”

Baig said Swingle, his brother’s childhood sweetheart, was rushed to a hospital Friday night. On Sunday, he said, she attended the funeral with bruises over her face and body.

“She still has blood in her eyes,” he said.

Houston officials were investigating what led to the deadly uproar that also resulted in injuries to concertgoers including a 10-year-old who was hospitalized in critical condition.

The Houston medical examiner had yet to release autopsy results late Sunday.

Houston police and fire officials have not commented on the victims’ causes of death. At a Saturday news briefing, they said some concertgoers were stomped. At least one security guard was treated with the opioid overdose antidote Narcan for a needle prick to the neck, authorities said. Both homicide and narcotics investigations are underway, police said.

At least one lawsuit was filed this weekend in Houston’s Harris County District Court by an injured concertgoer, Manuel Souza, against Scott, concert promoter Live Nation, co-organizer ScoreMore and Scott’s Cactus Jack Records. The lawsuit alleges concert organizers “failed to properly plan and conduct the concert in a safe manner … ignored the extreme risks of harm to concertgoers, and, in some cases, actively encouraged and fomented dangerous behaviors.”

Baig, blaming Scott for encouraging the chaos and not stopping the show, said his family is also planning to file a lawsuit.

“He didn’t stop the show for people dying,” he said, noting his brother died toward the end of the event. “He has blood on his hands. He’s accountable for this. Everybody associated with the Astroworld is accountable.”

As emergency vehicles rushed in during the outdoor event before 50,000 people, Scott continued his performance. About 30 minutes into his set, which Apple Music livestreamed, the rapper noticed blue and red flashing lights and said: “There’s an ambulance in the crowd. Whoa, whoa, whoa.” A minute later, the music started up again and the concert continued for roughly 40 more minutes.

On Sunday, Scott, who previously tweeted that he was “devastated” by the tragedy, pledged “total support” to investigators. In an Instagram post, he said “any time I could make out anything that was going on, I’d stop the show and help (the fans) get the help they need.” He “could never imagine the severity of the situation,” he added.

Those who died included 14-year-old John Hilgert, a freshman at Houston’s Memorial High School, which released a statement confirming his death. On Sunday, supporters tied green ribbons — the school color — around the perimeter fence in his honor.

“The kid impacted everyone that met him,” Justin Higgs, Hilgert’s former baseball coach, wrote on Facebook. “Privileged to have had the opportunity to coach him during those seasons of his life.”

Also killed was 16-year-old Brianna Rodriguez, a junior at Heights High School, where she was on the dance team.

“She was an excellent student and loved to dance,” former teacher Linda Gordon said via Facebook Messenger. “She has a younger brother and sister and they were very close! She had so much potential.”

Gordon said other former students had attended the concert and survived.

“I am still in shock and cry daily,” she said. “… I pray they find a solution to prevent this from happening again.”

The dead also included Rodolfo Angel Peña, 23, an aspiring model and psychology student from Laredo, Texas; Axel Acosta, 21, a student at Western Washington University; Franco Patino, 21, a student at the University of Dayton; Jacob Jurinek, 20, a student at Southern Illinois University; and Madison Dubiski, 23, of Houston.

“By all accounts, Axel was a young man with a vibrant future. We are sending our condolences to his family on this very sad day,” said Melynda Huskey, vice president of enrollment and student services at Western Washington University.

Letters, candles and flowers left for the Astroworld victims.

Letters, candles and flowers left for the Astroworld victims.

(Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)

Some of Dubiski’s relatives visited a makeshift memorial Sunday outside the arena where the concert had been held, but they declined to comment. A portrait of Dubiski — long blond hair draped over a pink coat — was set among rows of bouquets and notes dropped off by those who streamed by all day to pay their respects.

Among them was Maximiliano Alvarado, 20, of Houston, who was texting with a friend hospitalized after his ankle was injured at the concert.

“I’m just here to support,” Alvarado said.

Leya Contreras, 24, of San Antonio came to pay her respects with her mother after attending the concert, where she said she escaped the crush of the crowd only to see a woman being given CPR.

“It could have been my daughter,” said Bonnie Contreras, 39, as they stood facing photos of Dubiski, Patino and other victims amid dozens of bouquets lining the arena fence.

Among those injured was ICU nurse Madeline Eskins, 23, who fainted as the crowd pressed in even before Scott took the stage. She awoke in a less-crowded VIP area where she said she witnessed security guards dropping off more people, some bleeding from their nose or mouth, and then going back to pluck more people from the crowd.

Eskins, of Conroe, north of Houston, said one young man’s eyes had rolled into the back of his head.

“Has anybody checked a pulse?” she recalled yelling to a security guard, who said no. She then checked and saw no response, and instructed the guard to get urgent medical assistance.

Eskins said medical staffers did not have the tools they needed to save lives. When she asked for an automated external defibrillator, an electronic pad used to treat sudden cardiac arrest in emergency situations, a medic said they only had one and gestured to a woman whose shirt was ripped open as other medics gave CPR.

“They were unprepared,” Eskins said. “They were more worried about their stupid Apple stream than they were about people literally dying. Travis acknowledged that someone in the crowd needed an ambulance and was passed out. He just kept going.”

Times staff writer Suzy Exposito in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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