A crowd safety expert says the surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival wasn’t concertgoers’ fault
- A crowd safety expert said the chaos at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival was “preventable.”
- At least eight people died and hundreds were injured during the first night of the Houston event.
- The expert said organizers let people flood into a “known danger area” just in front of the stage.
A crowd safety expert said organizers, not concertgoers, were to blame for the crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival on Friday, which killed eight people and injured hundreds.
Paul Wertheimer, the founder of Crowd Management Services, told Insider the deadly surge was “a preventable disaster.”
“People in the crowd were the victims, because they were put in a situation beyond their control by the organizers and by the people who approved that event,” Wertheimer, who specializes in concerts and festivals, said.
Houston officials said Saturday that a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old were among the dead. The crowd skewed young – the oldest person reported dead was just 27 years old, and five minors were hospitalized with injuries.
Officials have said some 50,000 people were at the event. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., the crowd “began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said at a press conference.
Wertheimer told Insider the organizers had failed to properly manage the crowds that evening. Since concertgoers typically assume organizers have taken appropriate safety measures, the Astroworld attendees pressed forward towards the stage, he said.
“People want to be in front of the stage where the artists are, so they tend to move forward. And if you don’t manage the crowd, people are going to be crushed,” Wertheimer said. “[Organizers] allowed the event to become overcrowded in front of the stage, which is a known danger area.”
Astroworld Festival did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
‘They’re groomed to accept guilt for what happens, even though it’s not their fault’
Houston’s police chief announced Saturday evening that his department has opened a criminal investigation into the deadly event, and that the homicide and narcotics divisions are investigating.
Wertheimer said deadly crowd-related events often don’t end in criminal prosecution. Indeed, Friday’s surge wasn’t the first time concertgoers were injured at Astroworld – in 2019, at least three people were hospitalized after being trampled while trying to get into the festival.
Travis Scott – whose real name is Jacques Webster – was also arrested and charged in 2015 after encouraging fans to hop over barricades at Lollapalooza, a popular music festival held in Chicago, Illinois.
“One of the reasons these disasters continue to occur is because nobody’s held criminally responsible for this gross negligence,” Wertheimer said. “The only people who are exploited are young people who are groomed to accept this in pop culture. And often, they’re groomed to accept guilt for what happens, even though it’s not their fault.”
Wertheimer even suggested that artists like Scott bear some responsibility for the safety at their concerts.
“Nobody wants anybody to die at a concert, but people create an environment in which people can die. And that includes the artists,” Wertheimer said.
The “Yosemite” rapper issued a statement on Saturday saying that “he’s absolutely devastated” and “committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
Astroworld organizers echoed similar sentiments, saying that they were “focused on supporting local officials.” Organizers canceled Saturday’s event.
Footage from the event shows a stampede of people rushing into the park through the VIP entrance and others dancing on top of an ambulance in the middle of the crowd. A harrowing video posted on Twitter shows an unconscious person being carried out by medics.
Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse who attended the event, said she assisted medics with other patients after she passed out and woke up in a medical treatment area. She told Insider the medics “didn’t know what to do.” Other festivalgoers said they struggled to breathe, and that the crew and security ignored their cries for help.
“I felt like I was having a panic attack, my heart kept going fast, I couldn’t breathe… and the security for the event didn’t really do much,” Jennifer Hernandez, who was at the event, told Insider’s Joshua Zitser. “It got really bad. People were just squished up. There was no air.”