Criminal investigation launched in Astroworld Festival tragedy - Mayor releases statement

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Houston city police chief Troy Finner said HPD has opened a criminal investigation by homicide and narcotics detectives into the Astroworld Festival tragedy. The chaotic scenes from Friday night’s concert headlined by rapper Travis Scott brought statements issued by Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales among other local officials over the weekend.

The mayor released a statement that points to all the various people and groups involved, asking for briefings from them all.

“What happened at Astroworld Festival was a tragedy. An estimated 50,000 people attended the event Friday night, expecting to enjoy a music concert with friends and return home safely. I extend my condolences to the families of the eight people who died and the approximately 17 people who were injured at the event. Many of them suffered cardiac arrest.

“Immediately following the tragedy, the city began to assist with resources and necessary support. A reunification center is setup at 8686 Kirby Dr. for families to reconnect with loved ones who attend the event. Families searching for loved ones may also call 3-1-1.

“This was a major event that happened in the city and on Harris County property. Today, law enforcement will speak with concert promoters and witnesses and review videos available from the event and inside the festival venue.

“I have called for a detailed briefing from all stakeholders, including Live Nation, Harris County, NRG Park, Police, Fire, Office of Emergency Management, and other agencies, explaining how the event got out of control leading to the deaths and injuries of several attendees.”

Governor Abbott’s statement focused on the victims, their families, and first responders.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez released a generic ‘thoughts and prayers’ statement. Gonzalez is currently Joe Biden’s nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ted Cruz tweeted offering prayers while thanking law enforcement and first responders.

The story just keeps getting worse. The more details come out, the more tragic the story is. There is a report by a security guard who said he felt a prick on his neck, passed out, and was revived with Narcan. According to the fire chief, others were treated with Narcan, the drug used to treat opioid overdoses, too. There were many people taken to the hospital allegedly in cardiac arrest. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called for an “objective, independent” investigation. “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.”

Everyone is being very cautious in their words due to the liability questions and the coming lawsuits. The crowd numbered at least 50,000 according to reports. People were jumping the security fence and coming in without tickets, so the true number is not known. It seems that everything that could go wrong, did. Eight people died, the youngest just 14 years old, a high school freshman.

Travis Scott began the Astroworld Festival in Houston at NRG Park, near the site of the former home of Six Flags AstroWorld in 2018. It is an annual music festival. The festival was scheduled to be a two-day event this year. I know very little about Travis Scott. I know he’s popular and his baby mama is Kylie Jenner. He’s a Houstonian. He’s had problems before for calling on his concertgoers to rush the stage for pulling some fans on stage. His fans are known as ‘ragers’.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting today that it obtained a 56-page “event operations plan,” which the festival promoter developed to ensure the safety of 50,000 guests at the sold-out event. The question is whether or not the plan was followed.

Astroworld had a plan for all sorts of emergencies. It designated who could stop a performance and how. It included a script for how to announce an evacuation. It detailed how to handle a mass casualty event.

“Astroworld, as an organization, will be prepared to evaluate and respond appropriately to emergency situations, so as to prevent or minimize injury or illness to guests, event personnel and the general public,” the document states.

All of the nine concert promoters and security personnel named in the document as responsible for managing the show declined to comment on what went wrong or did not respond. They include Seyth Boardman, author of the plan and the festival’s safety director, and Brad Wavra, a vice president at promoter Live Nation.

The plan for the Astroworld Festival said that the executive producer and the festival director had the ultimate authority to stop the show. In a dire emergency, the document said an incident command post would be established and the incident commander could order the power to be diverted from the show if lives were in “immediate danger.”

That didn’t happen Friday night. The timeline looks troubling.

Houston police officials said they asked concert promoters to halt Scott’s concert after the crowd rushed the stage and fans began collapsing around 9:30 p.m. Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said a “mass casualty” event was declared at 9:38 p.m.

But concert attendees said Scott didn’t end the show early — he continued playing his full set of songs for 37 minutes after the mass casualty event was declared by the fire department. The show finally ended at 10:15 p.m., they said. Finner and Mayor Sylvester Turner said it ended five minutes earlier at 10:10 p.m.

Travis Scott continued to perform for 37 minutes while people were dying and injured from the chaos. The police chief said there were concerns about “shutting down the show too abruptly and risking a riot.” The fire chief said that though the plan didn’t call for it, there were extra EMS units nearby and they responded quickly. “We went ahead and pre-planned in anticipation for a contingency,” Peña said. “That’s the reason why we had units deployed around the perimeter and were able to respond so quickly.”

What a mess. What a terrible tragedy that should never have happened. The investigations will likely take weeks, maybe longer. This story isn’t going away any time soon.