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Friday, May 24, 2024 — Houston, TX

Astroworld leaves eight dead, hundreds injured

Photos courtesy Austin Escamilla

By Talha Arif     11/9/21 11:21pm

Content warning: This article contains references to violence through anecdotal depictions of crowd surge.

Eight people were confirmed dead, and hundreds injured, following a crowd surge at the Astroworld festival on Friday night at NRG Park. Astroworld is an annual music festival hosted by rapper Travis Scott.

The eight victims were John Hilgert, 14 years old, Brianna Rodriguez, 16 years old, Jacob Jurinek, 20 years old, Franco Patiño and Axel Acosta, both 21 years old, Rodolfo Peña and Madison Dubiski, both 23 years old and Danish Baig, 27 years old.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña told CNN that the crowd of around 50,000 began to push and surge towards the front of the stage during Scott’s performance, which caused some people in the front to be compressed, unable to escape. Several Rice students attended the concert.

Abhinav Gorjala, a McMurtry College sophomore, said when the timer at the concert hit the ten minute mark before Scott took the stage, the area started becoming much more chaotic.

“That’s when the super close cramming started, to the point where if I put my hands up, I couldn’t put them down,” Gorjala said. “[Scott] came right as the timer hit zero and that’s when all hell broke loose.”

Zaid Nathani, a Will Rice College senior, said it was physically impossible to get out unless people found others who also wanted to leave the space.

“Some people would help you and would let you pass, but other people would be [jumping around] and you couldn’t get past them and then because of them you’d get pushed forward and lose all the progress you made trying to get out,” Nathani said. “There were people on the floor that had fallen over because of the force of people trying to get out after how bad the first song was in terms of the mosh pit. There was a lot of panic, people falling down [and] just trying to do whatever to get out.”

Nathani said he could see people injured on the ground, but there was no way to help because if someone stopped to help they would get pushed down as well.

Gorjula said he saw someone who fell and had his head stepped on, and that they were knocked out immediately.

“That was when I was like, ‘oh my gosh,’” Gorjula said. “I don’t know [what happened to him] but he was definitely medically transported.”

Gorjula said he also saw a lot of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and some cardiac arrests.

Nathani said he was pushed out to the side after the first song and made his way back in, but as soon as he came back it felt as chaotic as it did before.

“It was either you were getting elbowed, smacked, or getting pushed… so you lost your balance,” Nathani said. “The worst thing was I kept getting pushed in a way that I felt like I was falling down, and I was scared to fall because I knew if I fell in that area then that was possible death.”

Sarah Elsaim, a senior at Will Rice, said she went with two friends who had been to a Scott concert before. When the concert started, people were shoving and pulling their hair. Elsaim said she initially thought it was supposed to be the normal concert experience.

“But then my two friends who had gone to Astroworld before started freaking out, saying ‘this is about to be crazy,’” Elsaim said. 

Elsaim said they were able to get out, but eventually she and her friends went back into the show.

“When we went inside again, there was one incident where my friend pushed me out of the way because there was a line of guys interlocking arms and they were just running as fast as they could, it was so scary,” Elsaim said. “They were knocking people down and stepping on people, they did not care at all. The guy who was initially behind me got knocked to the floor.”

Vickie Liu, a Duncan College senior, said her brother attended the concert and she didn’t hear from him after it had ended.

“At like 2:00 a.m., I got a text from my friend … saying eight people died,” Liu said. “I’ve never felt so much panic in my entire life [than I did there] because I hadn’t heard from my brother that entire day.”

Liu said she went to the Astroworld reunification center around 3:00 a.m. When she arrived, officials were still actively identifying those who died and who were hospitalized and could not give her confirmation of where her brother was. According to Liu, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was at the reunification center and talked to Liu to comfort her.

“I sat there for around an hour, and during that hour more people came … it was a very surreal experience because everyone was stressed and you didn’t really know what to do,” Liu said.

Liu said she eventually called the hotel where her brother was staying and fortunately found him there asleep, since he had left the concert early enough that he was not aware of what happened.

Scott released a statement in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“We’re actually working right now to identify the families so we can help assist them through this tough time,” Scott said in a video posted to his Instagram account.

Scott will be providing refunds to all Astroworld attendees. Several lawsuits against Scott have already been filed.

Nathani said he thinks Scott is potentially partially to blame, but the organizers should also be held accountable.

“If [Scott] knew that people were dying, then he should absolutely be held accountable,” Nathani said. “But people were calling 911, so the police knew. Police sent their dispatch out and said the event organizers knew. If the organizers knew people were dying, they could have shut the cameras off, turned the lights on, shut the [microphone] off.”

Elsaim said Scott would occasionally stop the show and look around and then point them out to be helped, but she thinks he is still partially responsible.

“But I feel like people [like cameramen] have more control over the event because people came directly to them versus [Scott],” Elsaim said. “But I feel like he shouldn’t perform for the time being because those fans were crazy.”

In videos posted online, Scott is seen stopping the show a few times to ask for individuals to be helped. Live Nation, the concert organizer, stopped the concert around 30 minutes before the planned ending, but this almost 40 minutes after the first report of a “mass casualty event.” 

The Houston Police Department opened a criminal investigation into possible causes of the crowd surge as well as claims of drug injections and overdoses at the festival. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also joined the criminal probe.

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