Probes launched, lawsuit filed in Houston rap festival stampede

Ambulance is seen in the crowd during the Astroworld music festiwal in Houston
An ambulance is seen in the crowd during the Astroworld music festiwal in Houston, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2021 in this still image obtained from a social media video on November 6, 2021. Courtesy of Twitter @ONACASELLA /via REUTERS

November 8, 2021

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) -At least two investigations and one civil lawsuit were underway on Sunday into the deadly stampede during rap star Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival that killed at least eight people and injured dozens in Houston.

Two of the victims were teenagers, aged 14 and 16, caught in the crushing surge of the crowd as Scott continued to perform, completing his set even after noticing fans were receiving medical treatment. Scott, the headline act and a hometown star who founded the Astroworld festival in 2018, later said he was unaware of the severity of the situation.

Houston city police chief Troy Finner said his department had opened a criminal investigation by homicide and narcotics detectives, following reports that somebody in the audience had been injecting people with drugs.

One security guard felt a prick on his neck, passed out, and was revived after being injected with Narcan, a drug used to treat opioid overdoses, Finner said. Several others were treated with Narcan, according to the city’s fire chief, Samuel Pena.

Harris County Judge Lina Hildago also called for an “objective, independent” investigation of the rap festival attended by 50,000 people.

“Perhaps the plans were inadequate. Perhaps the plans were good but they weren’t followed,” Hildago said. “The families of those who died, everybody affected, deserves answers.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also called for a briefing from all the parties including first responders, concert promoter Live Nation, and officials of the venue, NRG Park.

The first lawsuit in the case has been filed. Manuel Souza, who suffered “serious bodily injuries” at the show, is seeking at least $1 million in damages from a host of defendants including Scott and Live Nation, according to a petition filed in Harris County District Court.

Neither Scott’s representatives nor Live Nation immediately responded to requests for comment on Sunday night.

The victims were killed near the stage when the crowd surged forward, with some suffering cardiac arrests and other medical trauma, officials said.

The dead ranged in age from 14 to 27, with one victim’s age to be determined, Turner said. Officials had yet to identify them but some details emerged in the media.

The Houston Chronicle identified the youngest victim as John Hilgert, a high school freshman who played football and baseball and arrived early to get a good spot to watch the show.

He went with a 15-year-old friend, the Chronicle reported, citing an interview with the friend’s mother, Tracy Faulkner. She bought her son his ticket as a birthday present, a decision she now regrets, the Chronicle said.

“They were both in the same place at the same time and one came home and one we will never see,” Faulkner said.

“John was a good student and athlete and so polite. He was the sweetest and smartest young man,” she said.

The Chronicle identified another victim as Danish Baig, 27, who died trying to protect his fiance from the crush of the crowd, according to Baig’s younger brother, Basil Mirza Baig.

“I lost my brother,” Basil Mirza Baig said in tears. “He was trying to save her from the stampede.”

The second day of the two-day show was canceled.

Trouble began some time after 9 p.m. on Friday when the crowd compressed near the stage, causing panic, Pena said. By 9:30 p.m., it was clear people needed medical attention, and Scott acknowledged an ambulance moving through the crowd, pausing and encouraging the crowd to make room.

But Scott returned to performing, telling the crowd he wanted to “hear the ground shake.”

At some point concertgoers approached the stage crew and pleaded with them to stop the show, according to social media video.

Scott finished his set at 9:42 p.m., the Chronicle reported.

Scott, a Grammy nominated singer and producer, said in a video posted on social media late on Saturday: “I could just not imagine the severity of the situation.”

(Reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif.; Editing by Michael Perry)