A criminal investigation is underway after crowd at a Houston music festival on Friday suddenly surged toward the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott, killing at least eight people, officials confirmed.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Sunday that his team met to begin reviewing what happened at the concert. The investigation “will take weeks, if not longer,” he said.
Around 50,000 people were in attendance at Scott’s music festival, which started in 2019. As a timer clicked down to start the rapper’s performance, concertgoers pushed toward the stage at NRG Park in Houston, crowding the stage and leaving little room to move.
The crowd surge left at least eight people dead and scores injured.
Witnesses described a complete security collapse at the venue. . The crowd at the two-day event that opened Friday was “out of control” before the show ever opened, said concertgoer Julius Tlacuapa.
Another witness, Reese Bludau, told CNN that the concert “was pure chaos.” He said his height allowed him to stand above the crowds and breathe fresh air, but shorter people would have been crushed and unable to breathe easily.
Bludau said he heard strong chants of “stop the show” and “help us” from the crowd between songs. “I just told myself to stay calm,” he added.
The Harris County Medical Examiner is expected to release on Monday the names of all the victims killed at Friday’s concert.
The victims ranged in age between 14 and 27. Twenty-five people were taken to a hospital, Turner said Saturday, and 13 remained there. They included a 10-year-old in critical condition, officials said.
Turner told CNN said this year’s security was “beefed up” compared to previous Astroworld festivals. There were over 500 Houston police officers and 700 private security officers in attendance, he said. But the increased security ultimately proved futile.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official. “But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”
Experts who have studied deaths caused by crowd surges say they are often a result of density – too many people packed into a small space. The crowd is often running either away from a perceived threat or toward something they want, such as a performer, before hitting a barrier.
G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the United Kingdom’s University of Suffolk, has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds. He said he usually does not look at eyewitness reports in the early stages of analyzing an incident because emotions can cloud the picture, and witnesses can see only what’s immediately around them.
Based on fire codes, the venue could have held 200,000 people, but city officials limited the attendance to 50,000, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
“It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd began to surge toward the stage,” Peña said.
Scott, an eight-time Grammy-nominated rapper and Houston native, released a statement expressing his sorrow over Friday’s events.
“I am absolutely devastated by what took place last night,” the rapper, a native of Houston, wrote on Twitter. “My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival. Houston PD has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life.”
Kylie Jenner, who shares 3-year-old daughter Stormi with Scott and is expecting their second child, spoke out on her Instagram Stories, writing that she and Scott were “broken and devastated.”
“My thoughts and prayers are will all who lost their lives, were injured or affected in anyway (sic) by yesterday’s events,” she wrote. “And also for Travis who I know cares deeply for his fans and the Houston community.”
The list of victims will include Rodolfo Angel Peña, 23, an aspiring model and psychology student from Laredo, Texas. His older brother, Guadalupe Peña, said authorities told the family his brother died of cardiac arrest.
“He’s a real strong person,” Guadalupe Peña told USA TODAY. “I know he would have gotten out of it. It seems real sketchy how it happened.”
The promoter behind the Astroworld Festival has been cited for safety issues in the past by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, records show. Live Nation Entertainment, the largest live music promoter in the world, has been fined or sued for issues ranging from unruly crowds to equipment failures at various venues and concerts in the past decade.
Astroworld Festival victims:Teens, college students and at least one aspiring model
Live Nation Entertainment and singer Gwen Stefani were sued in federal court by Lisa Keri Stricklin for injuries she suffered during a 2016 concert at the PNC Pavilion in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to the court complaint, concert patrons were initially seated in a reserved section and lawn seats. During the concert, Stefani made an impromptu announcement that patrons in the lawn seats could move to the reserve section and “fill in anywhere you like.”
“This announcement created a stampede of patrons … with many patrons knocking over and breaching the security barricades,” the lawsuit alleged.
Stricklin alleged that she was “trampled by the rush of patrons,” resulting in severe physical injuries, including a broken leg. Attorneys for all parties in the lawsuit signed a stipulation of dismissal on March 12, 2019, a move that typically signals an out-of-court settlement that ends a case.
In 2019, the company was fined $5,350 for an accident in which an employee walking near a staging area was struck in the head by a six-foot metal post. The company also was penalized $4,250 in a settlement for a 2011 accident in which an employee working as a rigger had a finger crushed while working to remove a cable. The finger was later amputated.
Contributing: Rick Jervis Elise Brisco, Kevin McCoy and Melissa Ruggieri, USA TODAY; The Associated Press