The victims ranged in age from 14 to 27, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D). A high school freshman. A soon-to-be college graduate in mechanical engineering. A young sports enthusiast.
A criminal investigation is underway as law enforcement officials seek to understand what happened to the eight who died and the scores more who were injured at the event as the audience surged toward the stage.
The “all-encompassing” investigation is being led by the homicide division, and “everybody that needs to be involved will be involved,” Jodi Silva, a spokeswoman for the Houston Police Department, said Sunday.
A video reconstruction of the Friday night event shows a chaotic scene in which concertgoers tried to call out for help but were drowned out by loud music. It’s not clear how many of the cries Scott heard, given that he was onstage and wearing in-ear monitors. Scott paused his performance at least four times but ultimately kept going until the concert stopped roughly an hour after videos from the crowd showed concertgoers in distress.
An event operations plan written by organizers in consultation with the Houston police and fire departments and the venue staff at NRG Park said that the executive producer and the festival director had authority to stop the show, but the report did not specify who held those roles.
According to the document, seven people were identified as being in the event’s “management structure,” but a job title was stated for only a safety and risk director. A separate part of the document that was supposed to specify individuals who could shut down the power and end the show to allow for an evacuation was left blank.
The document described procedures on how to respond to a variety of threats such as lost persons, missing children, traumatic injuries, deaths, active shooters and unruly fans, but it did not specifically address crowd surges or mosh pit safety concerns. It’s not clear if the document was the final version of the event operation plan.
The ongoing investigation probably will go on for “quite some time to determine what exactly happened,” Turner said Saturday, noting that it could be days or weeks or “even longer.”
On Sunday, security guards at NRG Park let in concert attendees who had left belongings in lockers or who wanted to search the lost and found. Piles of flowers accumulated and a slow stream of teary-eyed people in festival merchandise stopped by to pay their respects. A nonprofit group from San Antonio provided therapy dogs to help ease the pain.
“I feel just so saddened and lost right now,” said 18-year-old Marc Medina, who watched Scott rap from center stage Friday. Medina said he has had a hard time sleeping since that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he just thought about a man he saw on the ground whose face had turned purple. “If you see bodies like that, it’s hard to forget,” he said.
At least 25 people were taken to a hospital Friday night, and a 10-year-old child was in critical condition, according to officials.
An estimated 50,000 people attended the Friday show, part of an event organized by Scott, whose concerts have a reputation for rowdiness. The planning document for this event said its security protocol was informed in part by “numerous past experiences,” and that incidents related to alcohol and drugs as well as “possible evacuation needs” and the “threat of a mass casualty situation” were “identified as key concerns.”
Three people were injured in a stampede rushing to get into a 2019 festival where Scott performed. Over the last few years, the musician has collected misdemeanor convictions in two states after authorities said he encouraged unruly behavior by audiences.
In February 2018, Scott agreed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct at a show in an outdoor amphitheater-style venue in Rogers, Ark., the previous year. Rogers police said that Scott “encouraged people to rush the stage and bypass the security protocols to ensure concert goer safety,” and that several were injured in the rush.
Additional charges of inciting a riot and endangering the welfare of a minor were dismissed as part of Scott’s plea deal. The law firm that represented Scott said he was also required to pay $6,825 to two people who said that they were injured at the concert.
In December 2015, Scott also pleaded guilty to reckless conduct in Chicago after he was accused of sparking a stampede at a summer festival by urging fans to climb over barriers, court records show. A judge ordered that Scott be supervised by the court for a year.
Scott is also being sued in New York together with concert organizers by an audience member who was left paralyzed after he fell from a balcony at a 2017 show in Manhattan. Video from the event showed Scott appearing to encourage another audience member to fall from a balcony to the crowd below. Scott has denied wrongdoing.
Freelance photographer Amy Harris, a veteran of music festivals who has worked among countless throngs in close quarters, attended the concert Friday and became trapped in a crush of people as she tried to exit an area reserved for photographers. With the crowd pressing in on both sides, her fear overpowered her impulse to document the chaos.
“I have never seen people be this aggressive and just decide they want to go somewhere and en masse bum rush places,” she said. “Typically, I would take pictures, but it wasn’t like that. It was like, I need to get out of here.” When she made it out, just before 5 p.m., Harris texted the Astroworld public relations team, telling them the conditions near the stage were unsafe. A representative responded within minutes and found Harris a clear pathway in and out of the photographer pit.
After photographing the first three songs, she felt the crowd getting out of control again and left early, even though she knew the special guest, Drake, was due to appear. “I just had this feeling like, ‘We need to go,’” Harris said Sunday. So severe were her safety concerns that she told her editor then she wouldn’t return for the second day of the show, something she said she had never done before during her career of 12 years.
Medical operations at Astroworld were overseen by Paradocs Worldwide, based in Brooklyn, according to a medical plan for the event obtained by The Washington Post. Founder Alex Pollak, a former emergency medical technician, declined to discuss the company’s involvement in the festival when reached by text message, citing the investigation.
Paradocs is defending itself in three lawsuits in New York, two of which were brought by people seeking damages after relatives died at concerts that they say were staffed by Paradocs medics.
In one case, the mother of a 21-year-old man who died at an Intec Island electronic dance music concert in June 2017 alleged that Paradocs, along with another medical firm and the concert organizers, caused his death because responding medics had failed to take action to resuscitate him. Paradocs denied allegations in the lawsuit and wrote in a court filing that any blame for the death lay with the organizer.
In August this year, a 27-year-old man in New York sued Paradocs along with concert organizers, alleging that he was “denied proper medical care, denied medical attention, and was discharged and ejected” from a show at a venue in Brooklyn headlined by the British electronic duo CamelPhat. Paradocs denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
On Saturday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), a county executive who presides over emergency management, called for an “independent investigation as to what went on and how it could have been prevented.”
Kurt Arnold, a Houston trial lawyer who focuses on catastrophic personal injury cases, said he anticipates lawsuits tied to the Astroworld Festival tragedy to be broad in their targets. “What’s unique in this situation is that there was prior notice. This wasn’t a split-second situation like a sudden stage collapse,” he said about the chaotic tone of the day. “When you look at the trampling at the barricade,” Arnold continued, “it’s just crazy.”
One such lawsuit was filed over the weekend. A festival attendee sued Scott, the organizers and others tied to the event, saying their “motivation for profit at the expense of concertgoers’ health and safety” led to deaths and injuries. The attendee, Manuel Souza, was trampled and seriously injured, according to a lawsuit. An attorney for Souza said the lawsuit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages, was filed Saturday.
In social media videos on his Instagram story Saturday, Scott said he is working with Houston officials to understand what happened and help the families of the victims. “My fans really mean the world to me,” he said. “I am honestly just devastated. Any time I could make out anything that was going on, I stopped the show and helped them get the help they need,” he added. “I could just never imagine the severity of the situation.”
Turner said about 530 Houston police officers and 755 private security officers hired by Live Nation were at the event. Asked why authorities had not ended the concert sooner, police chief Troy 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.”
The Astroworld Festival is produced by the entertainment behemoth Live Nation as well as ScoreMore Promotions, which bills itself as “your favorite rappers favorite promoter.” ScoreMore has built a reputation for spotting emerging indie artists in electronic dance music and hip-hop to bring them to Southern audiences before they launch to superstardom.
Sascha Stone Guttfreund, who runs the firm that produced the Astroworld Festival with Live Nation, told The Post on Saturday that he was working with authorities. He did not respond for comment on Sunday.
“Live Nation and Astroworld put together plans for this event, a security plan, a site plan,” Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, said on Saturday. “And so perhaps the plans were inadequate, perhaps the plans were good but they weren’t followed, perhaps it was something else entirely.”
“It may well be that this tragedy is a result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided,” she added. “Until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”
Alice Crites, Arelis Hernández, Mariana Alfaro, Annabelle Timsit, Jennifer Hassan, Adela Suliman, Marisa Iati, Sarah Cahlan, Elyse Samuels and Rachel Pannett have contributed reporting and updates to the story above.