"Outside, before the concert, it was a mess," said Doug Agricola, 17, of Cincinnati. "You could lift your feet off the ground and be carried through the door. It was packed. People were pressing so hard against each other, waiting to get in, that it was hard to breathe."
Most of the concertgoers filed comfortably into the hall. Same sat on blankets, others stood -- pressing closer to the stage, shedding their down jackets to get nearer.
As the floor slowly filled on Monday night, frisbees flew overhead. But the area was so crowded that no one could raise an arm to catch them.The routine of the pre-concert wait had begun. To ease the tedium, a tape of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" was put on the sound system. The crowd whistled its thanks. It seemed to be a normal night for the capacity crowd at The Who concert in Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum.
Outside, it had been far from normal. A crowd of 7,000 had been building since the early afternoon -- some drinking, some smoking marijuana, all wanting to be there early. They had a good reason: Of the 18,300 tickets sold, at least half were for seats to be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
The hall was supposed to open at 7 p.m., but The Who arrived late for the sound check, and were still on stage when the crowd was waiting to make its entrance.
Finally, at 7:30, management opened the doors.
It is still uncertain exactly how many doors were open on Monday night. Reports range from as few as three to as many as 16 (two banks of eight doors each). John Tafaro, the Coliseum's director of publicity, said in a statement yesterday that the question of how many doors were open and who decided the number of doors to use is "something that I can't tell you right now."
What is certain is that the public address system blared, "Please do not shove. Please do not push." And within a few minutes, 11 were dead and at least 22 were injured in the stampede for seats.
Bill Crandle, 20, of Loveland, Ohio, said "I was standing in line from about 6 o'clock, and nothing was wrong. I have been to lots of concerts like these, and it was just like all the rest.
"But when the crush started, it got out of hand. People were hitting other people, and a girl fell down in front of me, and I helped her up finally. It was wild and crazy. The freaks were just going crazy." Crandle lost his ticket in the melee and never got inside the auditorium.
All this went unnoticed to those inside. The concert began on time. Exactly at 8 p.m. the house lights went down, the curtain parted and a screen was revealed. From a projector at the rear of the auditorium came the images of a film clip from The Who's movie "Quadrophenia."
Ten minutes later The Who appeared on stage, beginning their two-hour performance with "Substitute."
Lead singer Roger Daltrey used his microphone like a yo-yo, and guitarist Pete Townshend flailed at his instrument with a series of roundhouse swings. The crowd cheered; shirts, jackets, hats, coats and flowers hit the stage; and fireworks erupted throughout the audience. At one point, a Roman candle drew more applause than The Who. Townshend addressed that situation: "We make the fireworks," he said. "Leave them to us."
In the middle of the set, word started trickling down from the various private boxes in the arena that something was wrong outside. The first indication was that all the Coliseum's phone lines were jammed. Box occupants with private lines were getting calls from concerned relatives.
Isy D'Agostino, 19, a nursing student at Wright State University in Dayton, knew what was happening:
"We got there late, about 10 minutes before they opened the doors. Everyone was going crazy. That was about 7:20 p.m.
"We weren't very far from the building. People were bottlenecked towards the doors and so we went along the periphery. We got about 30 feet from a side door.
"Everyone heard the music starting, and all of a sudden there was a surge forward and the pounds of pressure were really upon us.
"We heard the glass break, and I saw people surge forward. I couldn't see all the doors -- they had maybe four open that I could see. We went inside, and there were people lying on the floor. Right next to me someone was trampled right by the door.
"I was working on people inside the doorway; I worked on three. They all died.
"The first was a man maybe 22, maybe 23. He had no ID. We noticed he was turning blue, and we were able to get a pulse, and then he died.
"There were so many people there. And the paramedics weren't there yet. It took maybe 12 minutes until they arrived.
"People were just standing around obstructing the way. That's what really surprised me. No one wanted to help. They wanted in those doors, they wanted in the concert and that was all.
"I worked on the people for 15 or 16 minutes, then I went outside and helped carry one of the last men into the squad car.
"Then I went over to console a couple people whose friends had died. They used my jacket to cover one of the faces. It was all bloody.'
D'Agostino spent the entire concert consoling persons who had lost friends and loved ones.
"There were three people on top of me," said John G. Watts, 22, of Moraine, Ohio, trembling uncontrollably while undergoing emergency treatment Monday night at Cincinnati's General Hospital shortly after midnight.
"Everyone had been pushing to get through. All of a sudden, I went down. I don't know how long it took until the police came. I couldn't see anything. My face was being pressed to the floor. I felt I was smothering. I just wanted those people off me."
A member of the Coliseum clean-up crew reported seeing bodies being pulled from inside the entrance. "Hey, don't use my name," he began. "If you do, it will mean my job. But they should have had more doors open. There were too many people out there and they were pushing too much. And these people, a lot of 'em were under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Their reaction times were dulled. If they got knocked down, they couldn't have gotten up."
Steve Hooper, 23, said he drove to Cincinnati General Hospital here after hearing that his girlfriend, Kathy Calhoun, 22, of Dayton, was among the injured. As he left the hospital's emergency room, he said Calhoun was bruised and would be held for observation.
Hooper said Calhoun told him that "she was standing near the entrance when they opened the doors. The crowd moved back and forth and she fell. She was in a big pile," he said,"the guy under her was dead. It really shook her up."
Inside, The Who played their second and final encore "Won't Get Fooled Again," to a tumultuous ovation. The applause lasted as long as the house lights stayed off. When they came on, the clapping ceased. The tragedy still was not common knowledge in the Coliseum.
To a member of the security crew it came as a shock and a surprise. "I thought it was a normal crowd," he said."We first heard about it when we went backstage after the show. We were sitting in a room with the paramedics. They were talking over how they had worked on someone outside and they didn't know if they made it. That was the first I knew anything was wrong, and the thought of someone dying at a concert was totally inconceivable."
Dr. Alex Trott, Cincinnati General Hospital's emergency room supervisor, said that none of the deaths was drug related. "It appears the victims died from some sort of severe trauma. I don't know what the circumstances were. The bodies were marked with multiple contusions, bruises, and the victims had suffered hemorrhages."
The members of The Who reportedly did not hear of the deaths until near the end of the concert.
"I didn't tell the band until they came off the stage," said Bill Curbishley, the group's manager. "We decided there was no reason to stop the concert and give the people any reason to make more trouble."
It was not until the band went backstage before the final encore that Curbishley said he told drummer Kenney Jones that he had "bad news, really bad news," according to Keith Altham, European press agent for the group in London.
"Then don't tell me until I've gone on and finished this number," the press agent reported Jones as saying.
Later, the members of The Who said they were "absolutely stunned" to hear of the deaths. "They wanted to do all kinds of things," Curbishley said. "They wanted to talk to the parents of the kids."
"The group was absolutely devastated," Altham said. "It may be too much for the group to live with."
Last night in Cincinnati, as The Who went on in Buffalo, 27 young people -- friends of three of the dead -- held a candlelight protest march outside the Coliseum.