Travis Scott’s festival performance on Friday night wasn’t shut down for a full 40 minutes after police declared it a “mass casualty event” and asked promoters to pull the plug, according to a timeline provided by officials Saturday afternoon.
Eight people died and 23 people were hospitalized after a panic-fueled crowd crush at the Astroworld Festival. Among the casualties was a 10-year-old boy who remains in critical condition. The eight victims’ ages ranged from 14 to 27.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said a mass casualty declaration was triggered around 9:30 p.m., about half an hour into Scott’s set, and first responders arrived about two minutes later. However, Scott’s performance didn’t end until 10:10 p.m., Finner said. A livestream of the performance showed the rapper thanking the crowd and saying, “Make it home safe!” as he walked off the stage.
“Our people stepped up [around 9:30 p.m.] and immediately went to the producers and told them, ‘Hey, people are going down,’” Finner said.
However, he defended the time it took for the deadly event to be shut down.
“You cannot just close [it down] when you have over 50,000 individuals, OK?” he said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “We have to worry about riots when you have a group that’s that young. It was a cooperation and discussion between promoters, my fire department, the police department and NRG officials. I think that part was pretty good.”
A reporter told Finner on Saturday that she was at the festival and it seemed like a very long delay in shutting the show down. “In fact, people were actually screaming for the show to stop,” the reporter 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 that they had a “robust” safety and security plan.
The event didn’t breach capacity limits and had a sufficient number of exits, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said. There were 528 Houston Police officers on site, 755 private security guards, and an unspecified number of medics provided by a third-party company, he added.
“It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that caused the issue, especially as the crowd started to surge up towards the stage, so that’s what we’re going to be keying in on in regards to the investigation,” Peña said, adding that the chaotic surge and large number of casualties “quickly overwhelmed” the third-party vendors.
Several witnesses told The Daily Beast that the event seemed poorly organized. Fans were jammed in so tightly they couldn’t breathe and outnumbered medics were quickly swamped as lifeless bodies were pulled from the crowd. Some medics didn’t know how to administer CPR or take pulses, concertgoer Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse who has worked in the ER, told The Daily Beast.
“I was screaming, ‘Do something! People are dying!’ They put their hands up, like, What can we do?,” she said, adding that fans had to help perform CPR on people.
Mari Cella, whose daughter Brea was pulled over a rail to safety after struggling to breathe, said a stampede earlier in the day, when eager concertgoers rushed an entrance and overwhelmed security, should have been a warning sign.
“They didn’t plan well enough,” Cella, who lives in the Houston area, told The Daily Beast. “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.”
As he was performing, Scott acknowledged an emergency vehicle trying to get through the crowd and unconscious fans being dragged out but he still continued the show.
Scott has been arrested twice for disorderly conduct after inciting chaos at his shows. In 2015, he encouraged fans to jump the barricades at Lollapalooza and in 2019 he was accused of inciting a riot at an Arkansas show.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said fencing at Friday’s Astroworld Festival was beefed up after crowds breached barricades at his festival in 2019—but that seemed to exacerbate the problem, according to at least two witnesses.
Albert Merza, a veteran of several music festivals, including 2019’s Astroworld, told The Daily Beast that an “angsty, adolescent” crowd became trapped with few ways out.
There were not many visible exits and the metal railings erected in the crowd area caused more people to be pinned. “That caused more people to get crushed against them,” he said.
An attendee named Seanna, who posted a lengthy account on Instagram of attendees being “sucked down” and trampled, said she was surrounded by chest-high metal barriers that made it difficult to escape.
“This incident is being thoroughly investigated and reviewed,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday afternoon. “It is important for us to ascertain for last night what took place, what happened, where missteps may have occurred.”
—with additional reporting by Justin Rohrlich and Carissa Lamkahouan