an Account of How the Tragedy Unfolded
There was hardly anyone standing by the stage when Cynthia Lira arrived Friday at the NRG Stadium in Houston. She wanted to stake out a prime position to watch Travis Scott’s headlining set at the Astroworld festival, so she showed up three hours early. Scott’s die-hard fans were sitting in the grass, biding their time. As the show neared, Lira remembers, the area filled up with concertgoers until it was no longer possible to sit. Lira says “a big wave of people” started pushing forward about 30 minutes before Scott took the stage. Fans pressed in from all sides, and Lira says she could barely find space on the ground to plant both feet.
Lira decided she had enough about a minute before the rapper started performing. “I’m going to pass out if I stay here,” she told a friend. Just as the two turned to leave, Scott began playing the song “Escape Plan,” and they were pushed back by another wave of people pressing towards the stage. Lira says she became desperate. “Our chests were cramped up, you could not breathe at all,” she says. “We tried to move, we were like, ‘Please, we’re trying to leave.’ This other girl was screaming and crying.”
Lira and her friend moved back a few rows from the stage before Scott started hyping up their section of the crowd. “In my mind, I was just like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ People are going to trample … they’re going to fall over each other.” She describes a “sinkhole of people” opening up around her as bodies fell to the ground and started piling on top of each other. “I was trying to get up as fast as I could, but people were landing on top of my legs and I couldn’t move,” she says. Lira screamed, but the music was too loud for anyone to hear her. At one point, she heard Scott start in on the song “Stargazing,” which includes the lyrics: “And it ain’t no mosh pit if it ain’t no injuries, I got ’em stage divin’ out the nosebleeds.”
“I was like, ‘I’m going to die because this man is not stopping the concert,'” Lira recalls. Knowing the song would trigger jumping and moshing in the crowd, she resigned herself to being crushed to death. She lost sight of the lasers, strobe lights, and pyrotechnics that made up Scott’s performance as other people fell on top of her. “There was no light left of the concert at all,” Lira says. “It was complete darkness. I was holding another person’s hand and I was just accepting that I was going to die.” Then she passed out.
The account Lira shared with Insider reflects what many Astroworld attendees said they experienced on November 5, when a crowd of more than 50,000 surged toward the stage. On Wednesday, the death count rose to nine, after 22-year-old Texas A&M student Bharti Shahani succumbed to her injuries. Those who died ranged in age from 14 to 27; no official cause of death has been released for any of the victims.
But survivors who described over-crowded conditions said they saw people in the crowd fall like dominoes, becoming trapped under a pile of bodies. Concertgoers have also complained that event staff, including a cameraman who appeared to ignore a couple who scaled his platform to tell him people in the crowd were dying, didn’t listen to their pleas for help. Even after police declared a mass-casualty event at the site, Scott continued to perform for more than 30 minutes.
There are still a lot of unknowns: While Houston Police Chief Troy Finner has said that the concert’s producers were asked to stop Scott’s performance, he refused to say when that occurred, or how event organizers responded (Astroworld promoter Live Nation and Texas concert company ScoreMore did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment on this story). The Houston Police Department’s homicide division is leading an investigation into who, if anyone, is to blame for the tragedy. That investigation could take weeks to months, Finner has said.
The deadly chaos at Astroworld followed rowdiness at several previous Travis Scott shows
Friday wasn’t Lira’s first rodeo. She attended the 2019 Astroworld festival in Houston, and recalls crowding issues then as well, if on a lesser scale. “There was a lack of oxygen sometimes,” she says. That year, three people were injured in a stampede to get into the festival.
Local officials appeared to have concerns leading up to the 2021 event that concertgoers would be hard to control. Finner said that he met with Scott, whose real name is Jacques Webster II, and the rapper’s head of security beforehand to express “concerns regarding public safety.” Finner also revealed that police presence at the event had more than tripled since the first year Astroworld was held, in 2018. During the inaugural festival, 170 Houston police officers were working the event, compared to 530 who were on duty Friday. Despite the increased security, fans again stormed the gates of the festival as it opened last week. Finner said this first crowd rush may have been due to people unable to afford or otherwise secure a ticket, or wanting to beat others to the merchandise stands.
Scott has a well-documented history of encouraging such rowdy behavior at his events. Once tickets for this year’s festival sold out in May, Scott wrote in an Instagram post that he was “putting a plan together” to “get some more of the wild ones in” to the event, “even if I gotta sneak them in.” At a 2017 concert in New York City, video showed Scott egging on a fan to jump from a second floor balcony into the mosh pit. Twenty-seven-year-old Kyle Green alleges he was left partially paralyzed from a fall at the same show, and is currently suing Scott in Manhattan Supreme Court, according to court records seen by Insider. In court filings, Scott’s attorney has denied Green’s allegations.
The rapper’s antics have twice resulted in criminal charges. Scott’s 2015 performance at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, where he encouraged fans to vault over security barricades, was stopped after just five minutes. Though no one was injured, Scott was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to a year of court supervision. Scott was arrested again two years later, after encouraging crowds to bypass security and rush the stage at a concert in northwest Arkansas. In that instance, several people were injured. Scott pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and was ordered to pay a nearly $8,000 fine.
Scott appeared to mention people struggling in the crowd several times during his set
Travis Scott first appeared to acknowledge that concertgoers were in distress 24 minutes into his set. The livestream of his performance shows Scott spoke to a person working in the pit below the stage and asked them to help usher someone out of the crowd. Five minutes later, shortly after yelling to the crowd, “I wanna see some ragers, man. Who wanna rage man?”, Scott pointed out an emergency vehicle driving into the crowd. “There’s an ambulance in the crowd, woah, woah, woah,” he said. “What the fuck is that?”
Scott looked around and appeared confused before asking everyone in the crowd to put up their middle fingers if “everybody good.” He then paused for a minute before launching into another song, saying, “Ya’ll know what ya’ll came to do.” As two people on stage dove into the mosh pit, he said, “I want to make this motherfucking ground shake god damnit.”
About eight minutes later, at 9:38 p.m, Houston Police declare a mass-casualty event at the concert, according to a timeline from WFAA.
About 10 minutes after the ambulance drove into the crowd, a disturbance in the mosh pit to the left of the stage appeared to catch Scott’s eye and he called for the music to be turned down. “We need somebody, help him, somebody passed out right here. … Hold on, don’t touch him, don’t touch him, everybody just back up,” Scott ordered. “Security somebody help, jump in real quick, keep going. Somebody jump in, come on, come on, let’s get in there.” The rapper then launched into another song. A brief clip taken from the mosh pit shows a limp body being removed from the crowd, while Scott stares and sings in the background.
Finner has said that Houston police told the event’s producers to stop the show when at least one person in the crowd was receiving CPR. But he wouldn’t give details on what time that request was made, nor would he say if the producers ignored the request. The decision to end a show early is made jointly between law enforcement and producers, Finner pointed out. He previously told The New York Times that you “can’t just close” a festival of 50,000 people. “We have to worry about rioting, riots, when you have a group that’s that young,” he told the newspaper. (When reached for comment on this story, a Houston Police Department spokesperson referred Insider back to Finner’s press conferences.)
The performance went on for about 30 more minutes after Scott noticed the passed-out concertgoer. Drake joined him for a few songs near the end of the set. As Scott played his closing song, “Goosebumps,” fireworks lit up the sky behind the stage.
When reached for comment by Insider on Thursday, representatives for Scott said, “it is completely inaccurate to say that Travis was aware of anything while on stage.” Scott’s attorney, Edwin F. McPherson, went into further detail during an interview with “Good Morning America” that aired Friday, saying that Scott was not informed that a mass casualty event had been declared mid-show. “That never got to Travis, that never got to Travis’ crew,” he said.
Scott didn’t understand “the full effect of everything” that went on while he was performing until the next morning, McPherson told GMA. “Truly, he did not know what was going on,” the lawyer said. “Understand that when he’s up on the stage, and he has flash pots going off around him, and he has an ear monitor that has music blasting through it in his own voice, he can’t hear anything, he can’t see anything.”
Concertgoers were “kicked, stepped on, and trampled, and nearly crushed to death”
Lira estimates she was out cold for around five minutes. When she regained consciousness, she recalls, she was still buried in a sea of bodies. “All of a sudden I had a big gasp of air and there was light over top of me again,” she tells Insider. Someone pulled her up from the ground, but she found that she couldn’t stand on one knee, which had been injured in her fall. As Lira tried to find something to hold onto for support, she noticed a person on the ground with blue lips. Medics reached the area, and Lira finally made her exit, following as they carried the body on a stretcher back through the crowd.
Once she found the medical tent, Lira saw medics performing CPR on concertgoers. Someone offered to wrap her knee and call an ambulance, she recalls, but she declined because she doesn’t have health insurance and went off in search of her friends instead.
Compared to some of the other injuries reported at the festival, Lira made it out relatively unscathed. Among those seriously injured is 9-year-old Ezra Blount, who was on his father’s shoulders when the crowd crush happened. The father, Treston Blount, lost consciousness, and the boy fell to the ground, where he was “kicked, stepped on, and trampled, and nearly crushed to death,” according to a lawsuit the father filed. Ezra continues to fight for his life in a medically-induced coma on life support.
Scott recorded a video after the concert, saying his “fans really mean the world to me” and that “any time I can make out … anything that’s going on, I stop the show and help them get the help they need.” He’s offered refunds for festival tickets, and has committed to paying for the victims’ funerals. “We’ve been working closely with everyone to just try get to the bottom of this,” he said. “I’m honestly just devastated, I could never imagine anything like this just happening.”
Legal fallout came swiftly as concertgoers filed dozens of lawsuits
Astroworld 2021 is quickly shaping up to be a legal nightmare for its organizers, with nearly 150 lawsuits filed within a week of the deadly crowd surge. Manuel Souza filed suit the day after the incident, alleging he was trampled at the festival and asking for $1 million in damages. Souza’s lawsuit calls the tragedy “months, if not years, in the making,” citing one of Scott’s now-deleted tweets encouraging fans to sneak into his concert, as well as multiple incidents that resulted in injuries at his previous performances.
Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee is representing the family of victim Axel Acosta, who he told reporters was “trampled … like a piece of trash.” Buzzbee said that neither Scott nor the concert organizers “cared enough about Axel to make even a minimal effort to keep him and others at the concert safe.”
However, legal experts told Insider’s Kenneth Niemeyer that Scott is unlikely to face criminal charges in connection to the festival. Dmitry Shakhnevich, an adjunct assistant professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, said there’s a “slim” chance Scott would face criminal charges because investigators would have to prove the rapper intended to cause harm, or “at the very least” was grossly negligent. Neama Rahmani, president and cofounder of personal-injury firm West Coast Trial Lawyers, agreed. “You need something more than a tragic accident to get to criminal charges,” he said.
Three days after the concert, Lira went to see a doctor at the encouragement of friends, who said she could eventually sue the concert organizers and make them pay for her medical bills. She was experiencing pain in her knee and a numbness in her arm, and she had multiple bruises. A CT scan ultimately showed nothing abnormal and doctors told Lira she will heal with time. Unlike the bruises, the horror of being crushed in the crowd in front of the stage at Astroworld won’t fade for Lira, who says she’s completely changed her opinion of Scott, who she once counted among her favorite rappers.
“I know he saw the ambulance in the crowd, and he did not stop the concert … he was looking at the people passing out, yet he still continued to sing. That’s ridiculous,” she says. “I will not be supporting him any longer.”