Officials were searching for answers after a Houston music festival ended in tragedy Friday night, when at least eight people — the youngest 14 — were killed as crowds surged toward a stage while hip-hop star Travis Scott performed. As ambulances raced in, scores more were hurt and the show went on.
The disaster — the deadliest at an American concert since a 2017 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas — unfolded around 9: 30 p.m. Friday during the performance of the headliner, Houston-born rapper Scott, who founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking at a news conference Saturday, described “a tragedy on many different levels” and vowed that “this incident is being thoroughly investigated.” Turner, who said the seven people identified among the dead ranged in age from 14 to 27, said there were “a lot of unanswered questions” that could take weeks to investigate. Unidentified is an eighth person who Turner said was a male. Judge Lina Hidalgo was the highest ranking elected official in Harris County. “But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”
Officials estimated about 50,000 people were attending the outdoor event at NRG Park when crowds began to “compress toward the front of the stage,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said. “That caused some panic and it started causing some injuries.” Pena added that the festival was well below the 200,000 capacity allowed under the fire code.
Witnesses described a scene of confusion and havoc. It was like a ripple effect. One person pushed, and everyone went,” said Gerardo Abad Garcia, 25, of Denver, folding his arms in front of his chest to show how he was “compressed” like “a sardine in a can.”
“There was like no airflow in there. Garcia stated that it was like primal instinct. He had to get out.
About 30 minutes into his set, which was livestreamed on Apple Music, Scott noticed blue and red flashing lights on the festival floor and said, “There’s an ambulance in the crowd. Whoa, whoa, whoa.”
After a minute’s pause, Scott announced, “Y’all know what you came to do,” the music started up again and the concert kept going.
Though officials said that the set “ended early in the interest of public safety,” Scott’s 25-song Astroworld performance continued for roughly 40 minutes more, concluding with the same two songs, “Sicko Mode” and “Goosebumps” that he finished with at New York’s Rolling Loud festival in October.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said police shut down the event as fast as they could.
At “9: 30, right there, that’s when a few people started going down. The people in the group stepped up to inform the producer that people were going down. This show ended at 10: 10 p.m.,” Finner said.
“You cannot just close when you have 50,000 individuals that young. He said that rioting is possible.
According to Mayor Turner, there were 528 police officers at the scene as well as 755 security guards provided by concert company Live Nation.
Twenty-five people were taken by ambulance to local hospitals, according to officials; of those, five were younger than 18. A 10-year-old was in critical condition. Officials stated that some victims had suffered from cardiac arrest, but autopsies are still being performed for the deceased.
Four survivors were discharged as of Saturday.
Officials said that at least one security guard fell unconscious and was treated with Narcan, which is used for opioid overdoses, after feeling a needle “prick” while responding to the crowd surge. He was revived, and medical staff noticed a prick similar to what you would feel if someone tried to inject you.” Finner stated. Finner said that his department had also launched a narcotics probe in addition to the murder investigation.
Pena, the fire chief, said his workers administered Narcan to several people at the concert. Turner said officials were investigating whether multiple people had been attacked with needles, saying the city was “not taking anything off the table.”
Scott, who released a statement on Twitter, said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My thoughts and prayers are with the Astroworld Festival families.” He stated that he was “absolutely devastated” by the events. He also said that he had given his full support to police in their investigation.
Live Nation said in a statement that it was “heartbroken for those lost and impacted at Astroworld last night. We will continue working to provide as much information and assistance as possible to the local authorities as they investigate the situation.”
Organizers canceled the festival’s second day Saturday as families gathered at a local hotel to reunite with survivors. Many teens, many still wearing festival wristbands or shirts, gathered in the parking lot.
” I was very close to the front of it. We were all holding each other up,” said Christopher, 16, clutching Astroworld bags as he stood with his father, who asked that their last name not be used.
Wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey, he lifted a pair of battered sneakers he said had been stomped on as the crowd surged over him.
Denver entrepreneur Jesse Dahl flew to the Houston concert with his 9-year-old son, Christiano.
“There were a lot of young kids who didn’t know how to handle themselves,” he said. “You get teenagers with no rules or boundaries, it’s just wild all day.”
Early on, before the show started, the energy level at the festival was high. At 2 p.m., a reporter for local station KTRK-TV witnessed people bursting through the gates of NRG Park.
Concertgoers described an event that had been unruly throughout the afternoon and evening.
Garcia said he had to get help from security when the crowd got similarly agitated and surged during a performance by rapper Don Toliver in another fenced area. According to him, a security guard lifted him above the fence.
Garcia said he saw people jump fences to gain admittance to the concert. “There were some people out of control: I’m here for mosh, i’m here for punches’,” Garcia said, referring to the behavior of other performers. “I don’t think it was security [at fault] so much as the people.”
During Scott’s set, Garcia was standing far from the stage when he felt the crowd start to repeatedly surge forward.
Dahl, the Denver entrepreneur, and his son were shielded from the crowd because they were sitting in an elevated VIP section, where they could see the crowd grow unruly, “swaying” and shifting forward. Dahl stated, “It just got really ramped up.”
Vanessa Johnson, 20, a business student at Edward Waters University who was close to the stage, said, “Things weren’t really crazy until Travis came on.”
Johnson was with friend Julian Ponce, 21, and both said that soon after Scott appeared, they heard people shouting, “Stop the show!”
“There was somebody passed out,” said Ponce, a University of Texas-San Antonio psychology student, who turned to see a circle of people behind him holding the crowd back as they tried to aid a man on the ground.
“You kept going forward, backward — you couldn’t move,” Ponce said.
“It felt like life or death the whole time we were in the crowd. I have bruises all over my body. People were kicking each other, pushing,” said Rebecca Kallabat, 26. As the crowd pushed Kallabat, she said that she thought “If I fall, my body will die.”
Another member of her group, T.J. Yalda, 32, who had attended Scott’s shows more than half a dozen times including Astroworld and loved to mosh, said he wasn’t surprised by the rough crowd.
“It’s normal behavior. Yalda stated that there were just too many children. Yalda stated, “It’s almost like playing with fire.” Yalda explained that a youth hit Yalda in the face and broke his lip.
Scott’s concerts are well-known for tumultuous energy and boisterous physical activity in front of the stage. One Scott song, 2018’s “Stargazing,” contains the lyric “and it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries.”
Scott also pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges in a case related to a 2015 stampede at Lollapalooza in which he had also urged fans to push toward the stage, causing a 15-year-old girl to be trampled.
Scott did not tell fans to go for the stage at the Houston show, though videos show some fans yelling to get his and the staff’s attention about the growing crisis in the crowd. At about the 40-minute mark, Scott pauses the show again. “Hold, hold! We need help. Someone passed out right there. The performance resumes shortly after.
Videos show fans chanting, “Stop the show! Between songs, “Stop the Show!” is sung.
Music festivals like Astroworld have become the backbone of the concert industry, generating millions for headline artists and promoters. ScoreMore Shows, the largest event-promotion agency in the world, produces Astroworld.
Next weekend in Las Vegas, promoters Goldenvoice and AEG Presents are scheduled to hold a three-day hip-hop festival called Day N Vegas, during which Scott is to be one of the headliners, alongside Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator. Scott will also be performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston, Kaleem from Los Angeles and Pearce from Santa Cruz. This report was contributed by Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta and Craig Marks in Los Angeles.