In the week since a Houston music festival turned deadly, questions have emerged about who should be held accountable for the nine people who died and the hundreds who were injured.
Audience members at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Music Festival described an unruly crowd surge on November 5 that felt like a “death trap,” leaving many trampled and struggling to breathe — and even prompting some to administer CPR on those who passed out.
“I picked some kid up and his eyes rolled to the back of his head, so I checked his pulse. I knew he was dead,” concertgoer Billy Nasser said. “I checked the people around me. And I just had to leave him there. There was nothing I could do.”
A 22-year-old college student died Wednesday, becoming the ninth victim in the tragedy. The ages of those who died range from 14 to 27. In addition, a 9-year-old boy who was seriously injured is in a medically-induced coma.
The question of safety measures at the event attended by about 50,000 people has been a focal point over the past week, drawing criticism from concertgoers and others. A slew of lawsuits have been filed against Scott, the festival organizer and others involved by the families of the victims and those who made it out alive.
“Everybody in that venue, starting from the artist on down, has a responsibility for public safety,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told CNN earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Scott has maintained he did not know what was happening in the crowd during his set — disputing city officials’ account of his responsibility in the deadly surge.
Scott’s attorney, Edwin F. McPherson, released a statement Wednesday, blasting Houston city officials over the “finger-pointing,” “inconsistent messages,” and backtracking of statements.
Scott said he was devastated by what happened and said he will cover all funeral costs for the victims.
As the investigation unfolds, here’s what we know so far.
Authorities say they couldn’t pull the plug
Multiple concertgoers told CNN that the crowd surge happened after Scott took the stage.
Jeffrey Schmidt said he and his friend tried to escape when breathing became more challenging.
“Little did we know, all hell was about to break loose. People started to pass out and fall to the ground,” Schmidt told CNN.
First responders began to hear of crowd injuries around 9:30 p.m., and the show continued for another 40 minutes, authorities said. And when questions emerged about why the show wasn’t stopped, officials said that it was not in their power.
The “ultimate authority to end a show (was) with production and the entertainer, and that should be through communication with public safety officials,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said earlier this week. “We don’t hold the plug.”
Finner has said the investigation revealed that police personnel told the production team that CPR was underway on at least one individual and to stop the show. Finner did not specify who the production team is or the timing of the notifications.
Firefighters who were stationed outside the venue were not in radio communications with the emergency medical providers hired by the concert organizers as the situation unfolded, said Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Lancton added firefighters were instead given phone numbers, which are not a reliable communication method during emergencies, given potential signal weakness during events involving large gatherings.
A 56-page operations plan for the concert was obtained by CNN this week, showing a clear chain of command in case of an incident.
The plan identifies the role of the executive producer as well as the festival director as the only people with the authority to stop the concert. The document CNN obtained is marked Version: 0.1, and it is unclear whether it was the final version of the plan and when it was drafted.
McPherson, Scott’s attorney, said neither the festival director nor executive producers are part of the rapper’s crew.
McPherson also noted Finner’s comments on Saturday that authorities had concerns about stopping early due to potential rioting from concertgoers.
All the victims were under 30
Authorities have said it could take weeks for the medical examiner to determine the causes of death.
Here’s a glimpse into what we know about the victims.
Bharti Shahani, a 22-year-old Texas A&M University student, died Wednesday night after being ventilator in critical condition for days, attorney James Lassiter said. “This was her first music festival, our first music festival. She was looking forward to it. She had her outfits planned,” said Namrata Shahani, Bharti’s younger sister.
Axel Acosta Avila, 21, was a junior at Western Washington University and had an interest in computer science, according to the university. He was from Tieton, Washington.
Danish Baig, 27, died trying to save his fiancée, who was getting stomped on and hit in the crowd surge, his brother Basil Baig told CNN. He was from Euless, Texas. “People would admire him for who he was,” Basil Baig said.
Jacob Jurinek, who was a 20-year-old junior studying journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, was also among the victims, the university said.
Another student, Franco Patino, was a senior at the University of Dayton studying mechanical engineering technology and human movement biomechanics, the university said. “He was loved by so many because of the loyal, loving, selfless, protective, funny, and caring person he was,” his family said in a statement.
Rodolfo Peña, 23, lived in Laredo, Texas, and studied at Laredo College, according to his Facebook page.
Brianna Rodriguez, 16, was a junior at Heights High School in Houston, according to a verified GoFundMe account established by her family. “Dancing was her passion and now she’s dancing her way to heaven’s pearly gates,” the fundraising post says.
John Hilgert, 14, was freshman at Memorial High School in Houston, a school district spokesperson said.
Madison Dubiski, 23, was from Cypress, Texas.
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