Bharti Shahani rarely asked her family for anything. So when she told them she wanted to see rapper Travis Scott perform at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, her mother said she reluctantly agreed.
She never returned home.
“For the first time in her life, she wanted to have fun,” her sister, Namrata Shahani, told reporters Thursday. “And that was taken from her.”
Bharti Shahani, a senior at Texas A&M University, died Wednesday evening, her family’s attorney said Thursday, five days after she was critically injured when a crush of people pressed toward the stage. She suffered heart attacks and was placed on a ventilator at Houston Methodist Hospital, her family said.
Eight other people, ranging in age from 14 to 27, were killed, and at least 25 were hospitalized in one of the worst disasters to strike a U.S. music concert in recent years. Harris County has not yet released autopsy reports for those who died. Houston police have launched a criminal investigation, led by the homicide division, to determine what caused the crowd to surge and who may be responsible.
“This was a monumental travesty from start to finish,” said James Lassiter, an attorney for the family. “From the performer down to the ticket sales, everyone gets an ‘F.’ It failed at every level.”
Shahani’s mother texted her to ask about the festival at around 7:45 p.m. Friday, Shahani’s father, Bhagu “Sunny” Shahani, told reporters. Shahani replied that everything was going well and that they were waiting for the next performer.
Three hours later, Namrata Shahani called her parents to say that the event was too crowded and that she couldn’t find her sister. Sunny Shahani and his wife left for NRG Park, where the concert was held, to help search.
They finally found Bharti Shahani at a hospital, her father said.
Throughout the emotional news conference, Bharti Shahani’s family described her as the responsible oldest daughter of her immigrant parents. She frequently cared for her sister while her mother, Karishma Shahani, worked at the family business. A computer science student, Shahani loved playing badminton, walking her 2-year-old Husky and picking up Dunkin’ coffee, her sister said.
Mohit Bellani, Shahani’s cousin, blamed the concert’s organizers for her death. Bellani said that the event was oversold, with hundreds of people allowed to sneak in, and that security and medical staff were not properly trained.
“They suffocated us,” he said of the concert’s organizers. “They did this to Bharti.”
Lassiter said Bharti Shahani was declared dead at 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, though kept on a ventilator to facilitate the donation of her organs, having volunteered for that before the disaster. Her mother, Karishma Shahani, said that choice exemplified that Shahani was “always giving, not taking.”
Mohammed Nabulsi, another attorney for the family, vowed to hold accountable “the people who decided to put profits over the safety of children and youth.” He said neither Scott nor anyone else involved in the event had contacted the Shahani family.
The event’s organizers, national promoter Live Nation and Texas-based ScoreMore, have said they are cooperating with law enforcement and had turned over footage from event cameras. Live Nation has previously said, “We continue to support and assist local authorities in their ongoing investigation so that both the fans who attended and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will address all legal matters at the appropriate time.”
Scott, a Houston native, promised to pay victims’ funeral costs and canceled his appearance at a festival in Las Vegas this Saturday.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said Thursday that his heart was with Shahani’s family. A fundraiser had collected more than $58,000 for the family as of Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner backtracked on his previous account of a security guard at the show getting pricked by a needle, passing out and waking up after medics gave him naloxone, a drug used to reverse suspected opioid overdoses. Finner said that medical staff had given investigators incorrect information and that the theory that someone at the festival may have injected fans with drugs was false.
As Scott performed for about 70 minutes, video shows concertgoers yelling for help but being drowned out by the loud music. It’s unclear how many of the cries Scott, whose shows are known for being rambunctious, heard as he performed while wearing in-ear monitors.
The deaths marked a tragic end to a festival that many of the 50,000 people in the sold-out crowd saw as an opportunity to let loose after the coronavirus pandemic canceled large events for more than a year. A slew of lawsuits have already been filed.