HOUSTON — Officials here vowed on Saturday to get to the bottom of how a music festival turned fatal on Friday night when a crush of concertgoers surged toward a stage where rapper Travis Scott was performing, leading to at least eight deaths and scores of people injured during the chaos.
An estimated 50,000 people gathered at the sold out Astroworld Festival for what was supposed to be a night of fun. As the headliner took the stage, fans began moving in so tightly that some struggled to breathe, sparking chaos and what Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña called a “tragic night.”
“That caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries,” Peña said. “People began to fall out, become unconscious. It created additional panic.”
The dead ranged in age from teens to young adults, Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) told reporters Saturday. A 14-year-old, a 16-year-old, two 21-year-olds, two 23-year-olds, a 27-year-old and a male whose age was unknown had died. At least 25 people were hospitalized, including five juveniles. A 10-year-old child was in critical condition, officials said. Turner said officials were investigating “how missteps may have occurred” at the concert.
John Hilgert, a ninth-grader at Memorial High School, was among those killed, a spokesperson for the Spring Branch Independent School District confirmed to The Post. Lisa Weir, the principal at the Houston area school, broke the news to families and students on Saturday morning.
“We are deeply saddened to inform you that a male ninth grade student died last night in an incident at the Astroworld Festival,” she wrote in a message obtained by The Post. “Our hearts go out to the student’s family and to his friends and our staff at Memorial.” Weir said the school would accommodate counselors “to offer any help and support needed.”
Scott vowed to work with police and help the community. “I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night,” he tweeted. In a video posted Saturday night, Scott said that when he knows there are problems at his concerts, he stops the show to let his fans “get the help they need.”
“I could just never imagine the severity of this situation,” Scott said in the video in an apparent acknowledgment of the deaths on Friday.
The incident marks one of several tragedies to strike at a concert, where packed crowds, loud noise and sudden confusion have fueled mass casualty events. In 1979, 11 people were killed when thousands of fans tried to get into a Cincinnati music venue to see famed British rock band The Who. There have been numerous incidents in the years since then, including a 2018 stampede at a nightclub in Italy that left six people dead.
The Astroworld Festival kicked off Friday as thousands of young fans of Scott began to gather at NRG Park to see the musician, whose concerts have a reputation for being rambunctious and sometimes dangerous. The tickets, priced at $350 and up, had sold out in less than an hour. Some Astroworld Festival attendees flew in from out of state.
But the excitement for many fans soured early in the day. Security guards shut down a merchandise stand as an unruly crowd tried to push inside. Swarms of people jumped over security barriers.
Hamad Albarrack, a University of Southern California student, said he saw a girl trip and get caught under a gate as the concertgoers around her kept running. “I was looking at my friend, and I was like, ‘Oh, no, it’s going to be a bad day,’” Albarrack told The Washington Post. “People were chucking water bottles from literally 8 in the morning.”
Neema Djavadzadeh, a Houston native, flew from New York to attend the concert with his sister as a graduation gift. But when he saw the videos of people crashing through the gates, he paused.
Djavadzadeh and his party ultimately arrived around 3 p.m. to find what he described as lax and disorganized security. Guards at the entrance were not matching IDs to coronavirus vaccination cards to enforce protocol at the festival, and police and medic tents were sparse, he said. “A lot of people were comparing it to Woodstock ’99, with how nobody really cared that a lot of terrible stuff was going on,” he added.
By 7 p.m., the area where Scott was scheduled to perform was getting full. An hour later, it was packed. A timer counted down to his arrival at around 9 p.m., and the crowd grew animated as the musician prepared to take the stage. At some point, fans started to push their way forward.
“As the countdown gets towards like, five minutes, there’s really becoming nowhere to move,” said Alana Stevenson, a 20-year-old attendee. “By the time the first song starts playing, immediately the pushes begin, which is a given, especially for a Travis Scott concert.”
Stevenson said her friend was getting crushed, and she saw a young girl, “legitimately passed out,” being passed through the crowd. Panicked people began to scream and try unsuccessfully to push each other out of the way. Most of the crowd, standing further away, remained oblivious to the chaos. “We were literally partying in a graveyard,” Stevenson said. “There was dead bodies, and people just kept going.”
Ona Casella was watching the show from the artist section, away from the main audience, but almost as soon as Scott began performing, the “night became traumatic.” After the crowd surge, emergency personnel took injured people to her area for treatment.
“They were doing CPR — like full-on, revival-type, intense CPR — to so many people,” Casellas said. At one point, she saw a man die in front of her. “His face was purple, and foam was coming out of his mouth. The medical people were trying to help him, but he was dead.”
Some fans intentionally got in the way of first responders as they extricated people, jumping on their vehicles and filming themselves dancing, another witness said. In a short video shared with The Post, people in the crowd yell for help as Scott calls out, “How we feeling right now?”
“I started freaking out,” said concertgoer Jake Scampini. “I thought I was going to pass out,” Scampini said. “I had to breathe out of my nose because I had an arm around my throat and on my mouth.”
Houston Police Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite, who was near the front of the crowd, told reporters Friday that “it happened all at once. Suddenly, we had several people down on the ground, experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode.”
Madeline Eskins, a 23-year-old attendee, said a security guard asked for her help when he learned that she was an intensive care unit nurse. She said she watched three people receiving CPR while one paramedic placed defibrillator paddles on another woman’s chest. Some people’s eyes rolled back in their heads. Others had no detectable pulse, she said.
Eskins said there were insufficient medical supplies — tools that should be stocked to address cardiac arrest and provide basic life support — and that people wearing shirts identifying them as medics did not know all the ways to check for a pulse. But Eskins said the root of the problem was what she described as overcrowding and underprepared first responders. “This was hell,” Eskins said. “I’m surprised it was only eight people dead.”
On Saturday, Peña said that medical staffers had the necessary equipment but that he could not guarantee that each medic had every tool.
Joey Guerra, a music critic for the Houston Chronicle who was covering the Astroworld Festival, said that Scott paused the show a few times on Friday night. The Associated Press reported the musician could be seen in a social media video stopping his performance to ask for assistance for a person in the audience: “Security, somebody help real quick.”
“I think he noticed people that were in distress or needed help, and he would stop the show and tell security, ‘Hey, come help this person, get them out of here,’” Guerra continued.
Scott was scheduled to perform for 75 minutes, which he did despite the pauses, Guerra said. It was not known if he was supposed to perform an encore, but Guerra said he felt like the show came to an abrupt end. Near the end, Scott brought fellow rapper Drake onstage, and Guerra said this had “amped up the energy like crazy.”
“Anybody who’s been to a Travis Scott show knows the energy exchange between him and the crowd is really, it’s really electric. It’s really amped up, it’s very passionate,” Guerra said. “There’s moshing, he encourages people — he calls his fans ‘ragers’ — that kind of aggressive, high-pitched energy is, I think, a signature of his show.”
Turner said about 530 Houston police officers and 755 private security officers hired by Live Nation Entertainment, which organized the concert, were at the event. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner acknowledged that some young people had been “rushing” past the security staffers to get in earlier Friday, but he said the incident had been brought “under control” and did not appear related to the later deaths.
Peña said the city’s fire code would have allowed NRG Park to host more than 200,000 people during the Astroworld Festival, which is four times as many as officials had estimated were there.
Finner urged people not to speculate on potential causes of the tragedy but acknowledged rumors that someone had injected fans with drugs. He said a security officer at the event was reaching over to restrain someone when he felt a prick in his neck and went unconscious. First responders revived him with naloxone, a medicine used to treat suspected opioid overdoses, and noticed a small puncture in the officer’s neck.
Several other people were also given naloxone, officials said. Asked why authorities had not ended the show sooner, Finner said it would have been unsafe. “You cannot just close when you have 50,000 individuals. You have to worry about riots when you have a group that young.”
Although the emergency unfolded Friday night, Peña said over 300 people had been treated at a field hospital set up near NRG Park during the first day of the concert, including the aftermath of the crowd surge.
A reunification center had been set up at a hotel for people trying to find those who attended the event. Officials said two emergency hotlines had been established and were quickly overwhelmed with calls.
Abbie Kamin, chair of the city’s public safety panel, said there were issues with the show before “but nothing to this scale. There are a lot of questions, and I’m confident we’ll get the answers, but this is personal. Astroworld, the venue, the site, has been a source of amusement for Houston families for years. Travis Scott means so much to Houston.”
The annual music festival, named after Scott’s studio album, began in 2018 but was halted during the coronavirus pandemic last year. The Texas-born artist, 29, unveiled the lineup in October with artists including Lil Baby and Drake performing on Friday. Reality television star Kylie Jenner, who has a child with Scott, attended, her Instagram posts showed.
The rapper and producer released new music this week and is known for hits such as “Sicko Mode” and “Franchise.” Scott has also been nominated for eight Grammy awards throughout his music career.
Scott, whose legal name is Jacques Webster, has a history of issues with crowd control at his shows. In August 2015, he was charged with disorderly conduct after police officers said he urged fans to climb over barricades at Lollapalooza in Chicago and led a chant of “we want rage.”
Security stopped Scott five minutes into his performance at Lollapalooza, and Chicago emergency officials said he fled the scene before being taken into custody. Scott pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges that year for the incident and was also ordered under court supervision.
He faced new charges two years later after allegedly encouraging fans to join him onstage at a show near Fayetteville in Arkansas. A police officer, a security guard and several other people reported injuries in the May 2017 incident. Scott eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Also in 2017, a man fell from a balcony at the Terminal 5 concert venue in New York City after Scott encouraged his fans to jump. At one point, Scott assured someone that people in the mosh pit would catch them.
“I see you but are you gonna do it?” Scott said, according to New York website Gothamist. “They gonna catch you. Don’t be scared! Fall!”
The man who fell sued Scott, alleging a crowd pushed him off the balcony after the performer urged people to jump from the lower levels.
Matthew Keyser, Deborah Blumberg, María Luisa Paúl, Alice Crites, and Ellen Francis contributed reporting to this story.
Complete coverage: 10 dead in crowd surge at Astroworld Festival
A crowded music festival in Houston turned deadly on Nov. 5 when a crush of concertgoers surged toward the stage where rapper Travis Scott was performing. Ten people have died.
The crowd surge victims include a 14-year-old who loved baseball, two friends celebrating a 21st birthday and a 27-year-old attending the concert with his fiancee. Here’s what we know about the victims.
At least seven of the 10 dead were clustered in a small area enclosed on three sides by metal barriers that became dangerously crowded.
A criminal investigation is underway in Houston as law enforcement officials seek to understand how the deaths occurred.
Travis Scott’s concerts are known for their wild energy and the Astroworld Festival, launched in 2018, has become his signature event. Scott’s partner Kylie Jenner said early Sunday that he was unaware “of any fatalities until the news came out after the show.”