A 22-year-old college student is the latest victim of Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival that turned deadly after an apparent crowd surge pushed concertgoers towards the stage.
The death of Bharti Shahani brings the tragic concert’s toll to nine after scores of other attendees faced injuries, and leaving at least one other hospitalized.
Shahani was pronounced dead Wednesday evening at a Houston hospital after being kept alive on a ventilator.
Shahani, a computer science major, attended the concert with her sister Namrata Shahani and her cousin Mohit Bellani, who described the crowd surge as a “sinkhole.”
“Once one person fell, people started toppling like dominos. It was like a sinkhole. People were falling on top of each other,” Bellani told KTRK. “There were like layers of bodies on the ground, like two people thick. We were fighting to come up to the top and breathe to stay alive.”
During a press conference Thursday, Bharti Shahani’s family tearfully paid tribute to her while asking the public to “pray for everyone who lost their lives that night” and their families.
Bellani recalled being first to arrive at the hospital assuming his cousin would be dehydrated from the concert.
“She had two heart attacks on the way there. … it shouldn’t happen to anyone especially at a concert. It’s a celebration,” Bellani said. “I just wish we could bring her back… or I wish I could have helped her that night. I wish someone would have done something.”
Astroworld was Bharti Shahani’s first music festival, Namrata Shahani revealed.
“She was looking forward to it. She had her outfits planned. … never once had we thought that we both wouldn’t make it back home or to the hotel that night,” she said. “It is our responsibility to get justice for this. Stuff like this shouldn’t be happening.”
Namrata said she had been holding her sister’s hand at the show: “She was always looking out for me. The last thing she said to me was, ‘are you OK?’ “
In a Thursday statement, Scott’s team said the rapper is “distraught” by the tragedy but will be working on providing aid to families who lost loved ones “as soon as possible.”
“Travis Scott and his team have been actively exploring routes of connection with each and every family affected by the tragedy through the appropriate liaisons,” the statement read. “He is distraught by the situation and desperately wishes to share his condolences and provide aid … but wants to remain respectful of each family’s wishes on how they’d best like to be connected.”
As the details of one of the deadliest concert disasters in U.S. history continue to surface, here’s everything else we know so far.
‘This is when it all got real’:Firefighter log reveals deadly moments at Astroworld
What happened at Astroworld? A minute-by-minute, visual account of how chaos unfolded
Travis Scott’s attorney accuses authorities of ‘finger pointing’
Scott’s attorney Edwin F. McPherson is accusing others, including Houston city officials, of “finger-pointing,” sending “inconsistent messages” and “(backtracking) from original statements” in a recent statement issued Wednesday to USA TODAY.
“Investigations should start proceeding over finger-pointing so that together, we can identify exactly what transpired and how we can prevent anything like this from happening again,” McPherson said.
A criminal investigation has been launched into the event and multiple lawsuits have been filed against Scott and the promoter, Live Nation Entertainment.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted Saturday after the event she will be pushing for “an objective and independent investigation into what happened.”
Victims of the incident include an aspiring model, students
Nine deaths were confirmed with victims ranging in age between 14 and 27. They are Mirza Danish Baig, 27; Rodolfo Peña, 23; Madison Dubiski, 23; Bharti Shahani, 22; Axel Acosta Avila, 21; Franco Patino, 21; Jacob Jurinek, 20; Brianna Rodriguez, 16; and John Hilgert, 14.
Among the victims were an aspiring model (Peña), a man who died trying to save his fiancee (Baig), best friends (Acosta and Patino) and a girl who loved to dance (Rodriguez). Many of them were students at various high schools and universities.
Autopsies will be performed before the victims are released to their families, Judge Hidalgo said.
Astroworld security guard wasn’t injected with drugs, police chief says
On Wednesday, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner offered clarity on a security guard who was rumored to have been injected with drugs during Friday’s melee. Finner said the guard was not injected with anything, but was struck in the head and knocked unconscious. Police are still investigating whether there were laced drugs at the concert, he added.
He said two people remain in the hospital in “very critical” condition.
Finner said it was up to show promoter Live Nation Entertainment, not police, to “secure” two mosh pits directly in front of the stage, describing staffing records handed over by organizers as “just not good.” He emphasized that he was not placing any blame.
Finner also defended the Houston Police Department’s ability to conduct a fair investigation, saying “we investigate ourselves all the time.” Finner confirmed “around 530” police officers were onsite at the concert. The police chief, who said he spoke to Scott ahead of his concert Friday about security concerns, denied having a relationship with the rapper that would impede the investigation.
“I’m a 54-year-old man. I meet a lot of people. I was born and raised here in Houston. If you call meeting (Scott) twice a relationship… that’s not a close relationship to me. I’ve only spoken to him twice. Let’s put that to rest,” Finner said.
Finner called the FBI a partner in the investigation, but said his department was taking the lead.
When asked why the police did not shut the show down immediately, Finner responded, “When you say authority and ability to end a show, we don’t hold the plug …The ultimate authority to end the show is with production, and the entertainer. And that should be through communication with public safety officials.”
Finner later said on Twitter that when CPR was performed on the audience members, Houston police “told personnel in charge of the event to shut down the performance.”
He declined comment on questions regarding a timeline of events on Friday, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation.
“Timelines are a major focus of the investigation right now,” Finner said. On
Astroworld refunds and lawsuits:Travis Scott offers ‘full refunds’ to attendees, lawsuits filed in tragedy’s aftermath
Festival’s operation plan was lacking
On Tuesday, a 56-page event operations plan for the festival, obtained by USA TODAY, revealed protocols in place for “multiple casualty incidents” as well as what to do in the case of an active shooter, bomb threats, severe weather and more.
The safety and security plan outlined an incident management plan including what to do in the case of “traumatic injury resulting in death.” Protocols included notifying event control and referring to the “suspected deceased victim” using the code “smurf” and never using the term “dead” or “deceased” over the radio.
The plan for a multiple casualty incident said to establish communications and triage stations and notify hospitals of the need to prepare for incoming patients. Another section of the document outlined what to do if there was a “civil disturbance or riot” and listed tips for identifying dangerous crowd behavior. Guidance again included reporting activity to event control and requesting a supervisor.
The plan did not specifically address what to do in the case of a crowd surge.
Texas governor launches concert-safety task force
In the wake of the Astroworld tragedy, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a statement Wednesday announcing he would be forming the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety.
The task force will be led by the Texas Music Office director Brendon Anthony, who will have a team of safety experts, firefighters and music-industry experts. It will also have representatives from the state’s police chief and sheriff’s associations.
The purpose of the task force is to “develop meaningful solutions that will keep Texans safe while maximizing the joy of live music events.”
“Live music is a source of joy, entertainment, and community for so many Texans — and the last thing concertgoers should have to worry about is their safety and security,” said Governor Abbott in the statement.
Houston Fire Department lost contact with private medic group
Houston fire officials – perched outside the festival grounds – had no way to directly communicate with medics from ParaDocs Worldwide, the festival medic group contracted to provide treatment to fans, USA TODAY reported Tuesday.
Houston fire officials shared two-way radios with police but only had cellphone numbers for ParaDoc medics – which didn’t work or weren’t answered in the frenzy of the night, fire officials said.
The breakdown in communication with ParaDocs cost the Houston Fire Department valuable minutes in launching a robust medical response as people were trampled, crushed and gasping for final breaths while authorities struggled to get information and create a rescue plan, fire officials said.
Interviews with senior fire officials and documents detailing the night’s events, including a 22-page medical plan filed by ParaDocs, reviewed by USA TODAY show how the severity of injuries rapidly escalated as Scott took the stage and how quickly ParaDocs was overwhelmed, forcing Houston fire officials to assume authority and deploy resources to the scene.
Thursday, USA TODAY exclusively revealed findings from an 11-page log written by firefighters as the night unfolded. The notes, filled in manually by Houston Fire officials in a command center, show how the festival began with crowds rushing over barricades and escalated into further chaos and how police, paramedics and others responded to the growing crisis.
Read more:As Astroworld disaster unfolded, Houston Fire Department lost contact with private medic group
A 9-year-old is in a coma after being separated from his dad at the festival
Hundreds of people were treated for injuries on-site and at least 13 were hospitalized. They included a 9-year-old boy who attended the festival with his father but became separated as the crowd became dangerously packed, according to family members.
Bernon Blount said his grandson, Ezra, was in a medically induced coma on Tuesday at a Houston hospital and that the boy’s heart, lungs and brain were injured in the melee.
“My son, once he had passed out from the pressure being applied to him during the concert, he passed out and Ezra fell into the crowd,” Blount told The Associated Press. “When my son awakened, Ezra wasn’t there.”
Lawsuits claim ‘profits’ over safety
Concertgoers have filed at least 17 lawsuits and Scott was named in at least 14 of the personal injury lawsuits filed in Harris County, Texas, by Astroworld attendees, alleging negligence and gross negligence. Each civil suit seeks over $1 million in damages and a jury trial.
“Tragically, due to Defendants’ motivation for profit at the expense of concertgoers’ health and safety, and due to their encouragement of violence, at least 8 people lost their lives and scores of others were injured at what was supposed to be a night of fun,” reads one of the complaints, filed on behalf of injured Astroworld attendee Manuel Souza.
Famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump filed on behalf of survivor Noah Gutierrez. Gutierrez described a scene of “chaos and desperation,” Crump said.
“We are hearing horrific accounts of the terror and helplessness people experienced,” Crump said in a statement. “The horror of a crushing crowd and the awful trauma of watching people die while trying to save them.”
Lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of concert attendees Manuel Souza and Kristian Paredes.
“There is no excuse for the events that unfolded at NRG stadium on Friday night,” Paredes’ attorney Thomas J. Henry said in a news release. “There is every indication that the performers, organizers, and venue were not only aware of the hectic crowd but also that injuries and potential deaths may have occurred. Still, they decided to put profits over their attendees and allowed the deadly show to go on.”
Travis Scott issues refunds, responds to tragedy
Scott and festival organizers are issuing “full refunds” to all those who purchased tickets for Astroworld following the tragic turn of his Houston concert.
The rapper was scheduled to perform at the Day N Vegas music festival this weekend, but has been replaced by Post Malone, the festival announced Monday night.
Scott first released a statement in response to the tragedy on Saturday morning saying he was “devastated” by what occurred.
“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,.” he said.
“I am committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need. Thank you Houston PD, Fire Department and NRG Park for their immediate response and support,” Scott added.
Later Saturday, Scott posted a distraught update on his Instagram Stories. “I just want to send out prayers to the ones that (were) lost last night. …… You know my fans … really mean the world to me and I always just want to leave them with a positive experience and any time I can make out anything that’s going on, I stop the show and help them get the help they need.”
What went wrong at Astroworld? Expert: It took ‘everything going wrong, like dominoes’
Witnesses describe how the crowd surge unfolded
Houston authorities and witnesses described a crowd surge at the event that left eight dead and several others injured.
The surge began shortly after 9 p.m. around the time that Scott, a festival headliner and founder, took the stage. As a timer clicked down to start the rapper’s performance, concertgoers pushed toward the stage, crowding the stage and leaving little room to move. Around 50,000 people were in attendance.
Witnesses described a complete security collapse at the venue. The crowd was “out of control” before the show ever opened, said concertgoer Julius Tlacuapa.
Ian James, who also attended the festival, shared his story with USA TODAY, describing the chaos. “As the music started, everyone charged forward, and it was like a vacuum as we all got sucked in closer to the front. That’s when things started taking a turn for the worse,” James wrote. “For 45 minutes I could not draw a full breath of air … If I had been any shorter, I would’ve suffocated.”
First-person account:At Travis Scott’s Astroworld, I had to help lift shorter people up so they could breathe
Travis Scott has a history of concert accidents
Scott launched the Astroworld festival in 2018, months after the release of his third studio album of the same name. Since then, the concert has occurred every year, except for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, at Houston’s NRG Park – the former location of Six Flags AstroWorld theme park.
His “Astroworld” album led Scott to receive multiple Grammy nominations, including best rap album and best rap song for his collaboration with Drake for “Sicko Mode.” He has been nominated eight times throughout his career.
Scott has a reputation of high-energy performances and rowdy crowds. Concertgoers are often called “ragers” and say the explosive energy in the crowd is what makes the shows so popular and fun. Scott has been arrested at least two times – in 2015 and 2017 – for inciting riots and disorderly conduct at his shows. He pleaded guilty in both cases, the former resulting in a one-year probation and the latter he was ordered to pay court fees and restitution for two injured people.
The 29-year-old rapper has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she’s pregnant with their second child.
Contributing: Elise Brisco, Nusaiba Mizan, Austin American-Statesman; Jennifer McClellan and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY