HOUSTON, Texas—Music fans as young as 14 were killed on Friday night as a panic-fueled crowd surged during rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, turning the packed event it into one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history.
Eight people died and 23 were hospitalized, including a 10-year-old child, in the crush during Scott’s livestreamed opening-night performance. Attendees described being crushed to the point of passing out, having their pleas for help ignored, and seeing overwhelmed medics struggle to evacuate bodies from the Houston event.
The eight victims’ ages ranged from 14 to 27, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday afternoon. At least 11 people were hospitalized suffering cardiac arrest and more than 300 of the 50,000 attendees were treated at a field hospital on the grounds that day.
Houston officials said Saturday afternoon they were still investigating the possible cause of the crush and whether there were any “missteps” in the planning and execution of the event.
Police Chief Troy Finner alluded to online rumors that the crush was possibly related to attendees being injected with drugs. But he said they only had evidence of one security guard being pricked in the neck with a needle while trying to apprehend a festival attendee. The guard fell unconscious, then was revived with Narcan, a drug to reverse the effects of fentanyl.
“There were some individuals that were trampled, and we want to be respectful of that, but we just ask that y’all give us time to do a proper investigation,” Finner said.
County and city officials, who worked with Astroworld and Live Nation to stage the event at NRG Park, which is a county venue, insisted on Saturday they they had a “robust” safety and security plan that didn’t breach capacity limits.
There were 528 Houston Police officers on site, 755 private security guards and a third-party company provided medics, Finner said.
“We’re not taking anything off the table,” Turner said. “This remains, and will be, a very active investigation.”
The disaster began around 9:15 p.m. local time when the crowd began to compress toward the stage and people “began to fall out, become unconscious and it created additional panic,” Houston Police Chief Lt. Larry Satterwhite, who was working near the stage, said earlier Saturday.
He said medics onsite were so overwhelmed they had to ask people in the crowd to administer CPR. Scott eventually ended his performance but fan videos and witness accounts provided to The Daily Beast showed him still performing as fans and paramedics performed CPR on passed-out concertgoers. Other videos show a cameraman ignoring attendees who were begging him to stop the show because people were dying.
Multiple videos showed fans dancing on top of emergency vehicles as they were trying to help unconscious people. In one clip, Scott spotted an ambulance with flashing lights, making mention of it from the stage, pausing for a few moments—and then sending two members of his entourage diving off the stage to crowd surf.
In a statement Saturday afternoon, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night” and gave his “total support” to investigators.
Concertgoer Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse who has worked in the ER, was trapped in a crush of bodies near the front of the stage and said she thought she was going to die.
“I’ve seen people die. Nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed last night,” Eskins, 23, told The Daily Beast. “I was about to tell my boyfriend to tell my son that I loved him, because I really thought that I was not gonna see him again. And before I could say anything, I fainted.”
Eskins’ boyfriend and a good Samaritan lifted her up and “they basically crowd-surf me out of there,” she said. She eventually came to in a safety zone just behind the teeming sea of people.
“I wake up with a bottle of water in my lap, and I look around and there’s just bodies getting carried back,” Eskins said. “The security guard dropped me off and left to go pull more people out.”
It was then that Eskins said she realized the festival staff were hopelessly out of their depth. She spotted another security guard carrying out a man who appeared to be in dire shape. Eskins asked if anyone had checked his pulse. The security guard looked at her in a panic and said he didn’t know how, according to Eskins.
“I was screaming, ‘Do something! People are dying!’ They put their hands up, like, What can we do? I said, ‘You need to figure out where the nearest medical staff is, and get him there.’ He takes off running, and another security guard says, ‘Please come help us.’”
Eskins said she followed them to a VIP area, where she said she saw a woman and two men on the ground getting CPR. There weren’t enough medics on hand, and they didn’t appear to have the proper training or equipment, said Eskins, who began performing CPR on one of the victims herself.
“As I’m doing CPR, one of the medics is checking the radial pulse, which is incorrect,” she said. “These people did not have a lot of experience in code situations or CPR... There was not anywhere near enough medical staff... they only had one stretcher. It was a complete nightmare... Toward the end of the concert, a bunch of cops showed up with more stretchers and carried some more people out of there.”
Eskins described herself as an avid Travis Scott fan, and said she has been to all three Astroworld festivals. What happened on Friday night, she said, “was absolutely despicable.”
Mari Cella said her daughter Brea, who was pushed over a rail to safety by a stranger, told her mom it “felt like drowning in quicksand.”
“It was horrible, it was dramatic, it was crazy,” Cella told The Daily Beast, adding that her son and her daughter’s boyfriend were also there. “Thank God they made it out alive. They saw dead bodies and whatnot.”
Cella, 54, thinks the tragedy was the result of poor planning, and said organizers and local officials missed obvious warning signs earlier in the day.
“They didn’t plan well enough,” said Cella, who lives in the Houston area. “I blame the city, I think they were not prepared. They should have known. Security was overwhelmed. They had a stampede in the afternoon, they should have known that this could get out of hand. They knew what could’ve happened, and yet I don’t think they were prepared.”
Earlier in the day, at around 2 p.m. local time, hundreds of eager and rowdy concertgoers had stampeded the entrance, knocking over fences and metal detectors, and appearing to overwhelm understaffed security teams guarding the perimeter. No major injuries were reported from the rush.
Albert Merza, a veteran of several music festivals including 2019’s Astroworld Festival, told The Daily Beast that an “angsty, adolescent” crowd and an inadequate number of exits contributed to the chaos.
“I was seeing very young kids—high schools, middle schoolers. I’d say 40 percent of the people I saw were under 21,” said Merza, who traveled from Detroit to attend the event. “Maybe they were feeling pent up from the pandemic, I don’t know.”
Merza said the chaos was exacerbated because, unlike in previous festivals he’d attended, there were not many visible exits. He said the metal railings erected in the crowd area caused more people to be pinned.
“Out of nowhere there was a rush of people and it was a free for all,” Merza said.
In a lengthy Instagram post, an attendee named Seanna said people were packed in so tightly that they struggled to breathe as soon as Scott’s performance began.
“Within the first 30 seconds of the first song, people began to drown — in other people... The rush of people became tighter and tighter. Breathing became something only a few were capable of. The rest were crushed or unable to breathe in the thick hot air.”
She said her friend began to “gasp for breath” and tried to leave but there was nowhere to go. “The shoving got harder and harder... People began to choke one another as the mass swayed. It became more and more violent. We began to scream for help.”
She said scores of people around her began screaming as they struggled to breathe, and some people collapsed. “We begged security to help us, for the performer to see us and know something was wrong. None of that came. We continued to drown... Once one [person] fell, a hole opened in the ground. It was like watching a Jenga Tower topple. Person after person were sucked down.”
She said more people were pushed or sucked into the pile of people and trampled on. Others were shrieking and had “terror in their eyes.” She managed to get to a filming platform to alert a cameraman that people were dying but he “told me to get off the platform, and continued filming.”
The second and final day of the event was canceled following the tragedy on Friday, Astroworld Festival said in a statement.
Another attendee, Cody Hartt, wrote on Twitter that he repeatedly tried to alert security about putting a stop to Scott’s headlining set in order to bring proper attention to the people who needed medical assistance, only to have his pleas fall on deaf ears.
“I screamed for help so many times, alerted security, asked everyone in the crowd if there was anyone who was CPR certified. Every call went unanswered. I was told, ‘we already know, and we can’t do anything to stop the show, they’re streaming live.’ Disgusting,” he wrote.
Friday night’s tragedy was not the first time one of Scott’s concerts turned disastrous. The rapper was arrested in both 2015 and 2017 for disorderly conduct, the former for encouraging fans to jump the barricades at Lollapalooza and the latter for inciting a riot at an Arkansas show.
The latest tragedy is reminiscent of a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati at which 11 people were suffocated and trampled to death. Singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend have said they were affected deeply by the loss of life, which they didn’t find out about until after the show was over.