Houston leaders seek clues for concert mishap that killed 8
Authorities said they would watch video, interview witnesses and review concert protocols to determine how eight people died at a Houston music festival when fans suddenly surged toward the stage to watch rapper Travis Scott.
City officials said on Saturday they were in the early stages of investigating the pandemonium that unfolded on Friday evening at Astroworld, a sold-out, two-day event in NRG Park with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance. One attendee said that as a timer clicked down to the start of Scott's performance, the crowd pushed forward.
"As soon as he jumped out on the stage, it was like an energy took over and everything went haywire," fan Niaara Goods said. "All of a sudden, your ribs are being crushed. You have someone's arm in your neck. You're trying to breathe, but you can't."
Goods said she was so desperate to get out that she bit a man on the shoulder to get him to move.
The dead 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 many 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, of circumstances coming together that couldn't possibly have been avoided," said Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County's top elected official. "But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions."
Experts who have studied deaths caused by crowd surges say they are often a result of density – too many people packed into a small space. The crowd is often running either away from a perceived threat or toward something they want, such as a performer, before hitting a barrier.
G Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the United Kingdom's University of Suffolk, has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds. He said he usually does not look at eyewitness reports in the early stages of analyzing an incident because emotions can cloud the picture, and witnesses can see only what's immediately around them.
Based on fire codes, the venue could have held 200,000 people, but city officials limited the attendance to 50,000, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said.
"It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd began to surge toward the stage," Pena said.
People in the Houston crowd reported lots of pushing and shoving during the performances leading up to Scott's set.
Then when Scott took the stage, the crowd seemed to rush to the front, trying to get closer to the stage, said Nick Johnson, a high school senior from a Houston suburb who was at the concert.
"Everyone was passing out around you, and everyone was trying to help each other. But you just couldn't move. You couldn't do anything. You can't even pick your arms up," Johnson said. "It just got worse and worse."
Johnson said fans started to crush each other, and people started screaming.
Scott seemed to be aware that something was going on in the crowd, but he might not have understood the severity of the situation, he added.
A social media posting shows fans who appear to be dozens of rows from the stage chanting "stop the show" while Scott is performing. Another post shows two fans climbing a ladder aboard a platform and asking a cameraman to do something.
On video posted to social media, Scott could be seen stopping the concert at one point and asking for aid for someone in the audience: "Security, somebody help real quick."
In a tweet posted on Saturday, Scott said he was "absolutely devastated by what took place last night." He pledged to work "together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need."
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer, described an "aggressive" crowd atmosphere throughout the day because of the way fans were behaving – pushing and rushing the stage barricades and prohibited VIP and admission areas.
"It was definitely the most chaotic festival environment that I've been in," Harris said. "I felt uneasy all day."
Scott, one of music's biggest young stars, founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018. The 29-year-old Houston native has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. He has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she's pregnant with their second child.