By Terrance Turner
Nov. 6, 2021
A deadly stampede erupted at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival at Houston’s NRG Park last night. Eight people are dead. Hundreds were injured. More than two dozen were hospitalized after the crowd rushed the stage.
Scott began the festival in 2018; the event was held on the site of the now-former Six Flags Astroworld park, where Scott frequently visited as a child. The two-day event was planned for Friday and Saturday, featuring artists including SZA, Drake, and Earth, Wind and Fire. 50,000 people were in attendance at the sold-out event. But there were signs of trouble even on Friday, when the gates opened. Crowds rushed the VIP gate, knocked over the fence and trampled those who fell; no serious injuries were reported.
But all that changed shortly after 9 pm. Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena says that around 9:15 pm, the crowd began to surge. “The crowd began to compress toward the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries. People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic.”
Pena said that a “mass casualty incident” was declared at around 9:38 pm because there were so many victims and emergency crews were overwhelmed. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Fire Department called 16 units to the venue at 9:39 pm. At 9:42 pm Scott stopped performing his song “Skeletons” to warn, “We need somebody to help; there is somebody passed out here.” Scott urged security to step in, but resumed the show 30 seconds later, as the man was lifted up by the crowd. (Fans started yelling “stop the show” as Travis performed.)
Meanwhile, chaos reigned. Cathy Wiskemann traveled from Pittsburgh to Houston with her son for the concert. She told ABC 13 that she and her son left early after witnessing a young boy on the venue’s surface. “To see that there’s this young boy lifeless on the ground…And he was checking — and I don’t know who this gentleman is, but he was checking for a heartbeat, and there wasn’t one.” She estimated that the boy was between 8 and 10 years of age.
Professional DJ Billy Nasser told USA TODAY: “People were trying to get closer to Travis and ignored the pile of people they were stepping on. Some were crying, others were bleeding from their faces and I was the only one helping while the crowd just danced away.”
Nasser has worked and attended festivals such as Rolling Loud and said nothing compared to the “madness” he experienced at Astroworld. He noted there was a barricade around the crowd for Scott’s set that made it “nearly impossible” to get out. Nasser tried to lift people over the barricade and help younger attendees off the ground, but says no one was there to help. Paramedics weren’t given enough space or a path to move because of the packed crowd, and festival attendees “didn’t care to stop dancing to notice,” Nasser said.
He said he witnessed bodies carried out on gurneys, women crying for help and desperate people giving CPR to their unconscious friends.
By 10:00, Drake had taken the stage to perform with Scott. The crowd, amped up by his appearance, started to “get chaotic again”, according to concertgoer Ellen Elise Evans. “There were people trying to get medics to come by our area twice because I think someone passed out,” Evans said. When ambulances came, some concertgoers started jumping on top of them.
HPD Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite was on duty at the event. “Once we started having the mass casualty incident, they were starting CPR on several people, and it happened all at once,” Satterwhite said. “It seemed like it happened over the course of just a few minutes. Suddenly, we had several people down on the ground experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode.”
Officials transported 17 people to hospitals, including 11 who were in cardiac arrest, Peña said. Approximately 300 people were treated for minor injuries and received EMS care at a field hospital, according to the Houston Fire Department. The event ended at 10:10 pm, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Tonight’s festivities have been canceled.
A joint press conference was held at about 3:30 pm today at the Wyndham Hotel at 8686 Kirby Dr, which became a “reunification center” for family members who had not been able to locate their loved ones who were at the event. Chief Pena, Mayor Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo all spoke at the conference.
In the press conference, held nearly an hour ago, Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that 25 people were transported to the hospital; 13 of them are still hospitalized (including five under the age of 18). He informed viewers that the eight victims who died ranged in age from the teens to late twenties (although one victim’s age is still unknown). One was 14; another was 16. Two of them were 21; two victims were 23. Another was 27 years old.
Travis Scott issued a statement that reads, in part: “I am absolutely devastated by what took pace last night. 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. I am committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
UPDATE (9:52 pm): Scott has issued a video, in which he revealed that “we’re actually working on identifying the families so that we can assist them during this tough time.” He stressed that “my fans really mean the world to me” and that if he had been able to make out what was going on, he would’ve stopped the show so people could get help.
“I’m honestly just devastated. I could never imagine anything like this just happening,” he said. “I could just never imagine the severity of the situation.”
UPDATE (NOV. 13, 2021): A ninth victim has died.
Bharti Shahani, a 22-year-old student at Texas A&M University, was injured at the concert after going with her cousin and younger sister, said her cousin Mohit Bellani. According to CBS News, when Bellani arrived at the hospital staff told him his cousin had suffered two heart attacks and was intubated. Shahani’s sister told NBC News that her sister had been on a ventilator, in critical condition, due to her injuries. Shahani died on Wednesday night.