'People Are Dying': Witnesses Describe Horror of Astroworld Tragedy - Rolling Stone
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‘People Are Dying’: Witnesses Describe the Horror of Astroworld Tragedy in Houston

“Fans were yelling at the stage crew around us, saying stop the concert… No one listened”

The crowd watches as Travis Scott performs at Astroworld Festival at NRG park on Friday, Nov.  5, 2021 in Houston. Several people died and numerous others were injured in what officials described as a surge of the crowd at the music festival while Scott was performing. Officials declared a “mass casualty incident” just after 9 p.m. Friday during the festival where an estimated 50,000 people were in attendance, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters at a news conference. (Jamaal Ellis/Houston Chronicle via AP)

The crowd watches as Travis Scott performs at Astroworld Festival at NRG park on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 in Houston. Several people died and numerous others were injured in what officials described as a surge of the crowd at the music festival while Scott was performing. Officials declared a “mass casualty incident” just after 9 p.m. Friday during the festival where an estimated 50,000 people were in attendance, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters at a news conference.

(Jamaal Ellis/Houston Chronicle/AP

Fans screamed for help and made pleas to “stop the show” during a crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Fest set Friday night that left at least eight people dead and hundreds more injured.

An estimated 50,000 people were in attendance at the sold-out event at Houston’s NRG Park. Witnesses described a massive wave of people surging toward the event’s main stage as Travis Scott began to perform, knocking people down and stepping on those who fell to the ground in the chaos. A number of witnesses said they sought help from police, security guards or others working at the festival as things started to turn more dangerous, but those pleas were met with apathy.

“Everything was normal up until when Travis posted the time he was going to get onstage,” Donovon Davis, 22, of Houston, told Rolling Stone. “That’s when it just got wild.” 

“The crowd was moving so violently that people fell on top of us, and when they fell, people fell on top of them. There was layers and layers and layers of people falling,” Davis said. He said at one point he tried to assist someone who had fallen down next to him. “I turned to pick him up, and I could hear him screaming for help. The music hadn’t started yet. And then the crowd just moved me, and I saw a wave of people just walk over him.”

Following the incident, accounts and video flooded onto social media about what people experienced during the stampede-like atmosphere, as well as the futile attempts to stop the concert in order to allow the injured people — trapped within the churning mass — to receive the help they required.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said on Saturday that 528 police officers were working at the festival and 755 private security officers provided by Astroworld organizers Live Nation were also in attendance.

Madeline Eskins, an attendee and an ICU nurse, told Rolling Stone on Saturday morning, “It was definitely overcrowded. It was insane, honestly. I knew it was just way too crowded – it just got worse and worse as I got closer to Travis Scott performing it got more crowded, more crowded, more crowded.”

“Fans were recording the concert and people doing CPR,” Eskins added. “Fans were yelling at the stage crew around us, saying stop the concert, people are dying. No one listened.”

Eskins, attending her third Astroworld fest, told Rolling Stone that, in the initial crowd surge at around 9 p.m., “I looked at my boyfriend and I was about to tell my boyfriend to tell my son I loved him because I did not think I would make it out of there. And I fainted,” Eskins said. “I tried to jump up as much as I could to get air. I couldn’t breathe. I just felt it. I knew it was coming.”

Someone then crowd-surfed Eskins to a security guard while she was still unconscious; she came to in what she believed to be a VIP area that was filling up with unconscious festival-goers.

Eskins shared more of her experience on social media, saying she believed the medical staff at the show was inexperienced and overwhelmed:

Grant Tate, 20, was between the stage and a camera platform when the pandemonium started.

“As soon as Travis Scott came out, people just started compacting. People were just pressing on you from every direction. You were at the will of crowd,” he told Rolling Stone. “I remember there was a girl next to me looking straight up trying to get a breath. I could see how scared she was. I was scared. You couldn’t raise your arms or get your balance. …We were scared for our lives, honestly,” he said.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, who described himself as 6 feet 3 inches tall, managed to make his way back to the platform with the camera crane. He recalled helping about eight smaller people over the barricade before climbing it himself.

“It was a really chaotic experience. One girl, her top came completely off,” he said. “The camera went low over people’s heads, and someone reached up to grab onto it. People were just panicking. They were definitely trying to get out of the area. That was them trying to get out.”

Tate and other festival-goers described a shocking lack of staff communication. They said the people climbing onto the risers where cameras were filming Scott’s set — which streamed live on Apple Music — pleaded with the crew to communicate to someone that the concert needed to be halted. Video from the incident appears to show the crew ignoring those efforts, with some in the crowd mocking the pleas for help.

“I was telling the crane crew, ‘There are people on the ground. They need help.’ They didn’t have any communication with the EMTs or security. They couldn’t help,” Tate said. “There was just no preparation for them to have an emergency scenario like that.”

He said one man collapsed directly on the camera’s wheel well while another was sprawled out near the camera with no shirt getting CPR.

“People were yelling, ‘Stop the show!’ But a lot of people were yelling lot of things. I’m sure it was hard for (Scott) to understand,” he said. “If there was any communication between that middle camera area and (stage staff), he might have understood – and maybe stopped the show.”

Baheer Kashif, 21, said he escaped the “living hell” of the mosh pit about 15 minutes after Scott took the stage at 9 p.m. He started “sprinting” toward a medic tent to sound the alarm and encountered a group of about 15 uniformed Houston Police officers, he said.

“I told them, ‘Hey, there’s a group in this little section who are suffocating. They’re gonna die. They cannot breathe. We need to go help them, get them out.’ They basically said, ‘Calm down. We’re aware of the situation. We’re dealing with something else right now, but we’ll take care of it.’”

Kashif said the officers continued “standing there, doing nothing at all.”

“Their calm response bugged me out a little. I tried again, telling them, ‘I’m not trying to be an asshole, but there’s people in there who are probably dying,’” he recalled. “I was basically told to fuck off. Just no urgency at all.”

As one attendee (@seannafaith) wrote on Instagram, “We began to scream to help. We could see security, just a few people away, in the walkway in the middle. It got tighter. Impossible to breath, as our lungs were compressed between the bodies of those surrounding us. More people began screaming for help, but we were not heard. There was nowhere to go.”

@seannafaith also claimed they were among the people who climbed the camera platform to inform the cameraperson that people needed help. “I climbed the ladder and pointed at the hole, telling him people were dying,” they wrote. “He told me to get off the platform, and continued filming.”

Amy Harris, a freelancer working for the Associated Press, told Rolling Stone that she had safety concerns in the early afternoon as hundreds of people jumped the barrier between the crowd and the stage where photographers were stationed.

“I got crushed in the crowd between the barricade and the fence in the tunnel going out. I was very scared,” Harris said. I got out. I texted the PR. I told them it was an unsafe situation and I wouldn’t be going back out. They made an alternate plan to enter and exit the opposite side of the stage all day.”

Despite the concerns, the situation worsened when Scott took the stage. “Many people were streaming over the barricade wall in our photo pit. The photo pit was jam-packed with chaos,” Harris said. 

“We saw a lot of people crying… We didn’t understand what was happening. But I was done. I had texted my photo editor at 9:30 and basically told her I wasn’t coming back for the second day because I didn’t feel there were too many safety concerns while I was there.”

Harris, who has shot music festivals over the past 12 years, added of the Astroworld crowd, “They were the most aggressive fans I’ve ever seen at a festival.”

An on-site photographer who requested not to be identified told Rolling Stone that she was pulled out of the VIP section, which was stormed by other attendees from general admission, because she couldn’t breathe. “I couldn’t move and I was screaming for help,” she says. “My Apple Watch was pinging, alerting me that my heart was moving at an incredibly high rate,” but she couldn’t actually look at it because she couldn’t physically raise her hands. When she got pulled out of the catwalk, she saw other people getting pulled from VIP. — “eyes closed, mouth open, just not responsive,” she says. 

On her way out of the show, she says, “it was sensory overload between the sounds of the stage, the sounds of the ambulance, the sounds of people screaming for the show to stop.” As she headed near the medical tents, she saw “absolute chaos,” as well as people lying on the floor in the surrounding area unattended. “No one knew what the fuck was going on,” she says.

Another festivalgoer, Anne Nguyen, a 23-year-old nurse from Dallas, told Rolling Stone that the festival wasn’t overcrowded for most of the day and recalls walking by a noticeable security presence, including mounted police, when entering the venue. She watched Lil Baby perform from near the front of the crowd at the festival’s smaller of two stages. As Lil Baby’s performance ended around 7:15 p.m., Nguyen planned to move toward the side of the stage to watch SZA, who was set to perform on the smaller stage next, before she headed to the larger stage for Travis Scott’s set. But as she began to move, the entire crowd morphed into a stampede toward the larger stage. Nguyen says, “We were essentially carried to the other stage. If I were to stop, I would have been run over — I had no choice but to keep on pushing. It was very scary.”

Video also emerged of Scott witnessing at least one unconscious fan being carried out of the area near the side of the stage; at one point during the concert, Scott looked into the crowd and stopped the music. “Somebody needs help, somebody passed out right here,” he said in video posted on Reddit. “Can somebody help jump in real quick, c’mon c’mon.” However, soon after, the concert continued.

“If he would’ve stopped the concert, or paused it, people would have settled down and the situation could have been assessed a lot better,” Eskins said. “If he could see someone was passed out, he could’ve seen something should’ve been done. This started from the very beginning of the concert. So it went from about 9 pm, that’s when I passed out. And went on till about 10:15, 10:30.”

As for allegations, reported by TMZ, that the crowd surge was sparked by someone “injecting” people with drugs, Eskins said, “People around me were sober. They’re trying to say it was drugs. The only thing i saw was people around smoking weed and people around me were not doing that.”

During a news conference on Saturday, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said that one security officer was given Narcan and revived after being “pricked” by something that medical staff said was consistent with a needle. Police are still trying to identify and locate the security officer.

“They’re trying to blame drugs. And I will level with you, I don’t think this was caused by drug use,” Eskins said. “Could it have been a contributing factor? Sure. Will they find drugs in the bodies of those passed away? Maybe. But people were getting suffocated. People were getting trampled. A lot of these trauma-based injuries. One dude had his face smashed in. He was bleeding from his nose, face, and mouth. Which I guess drugs can cause, but so can getting trampled.”

 

This post has been updated to include additional eyewitness accounts. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified photographer Amy Harris. She is a freelancer working for the Associated Press.

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