Before a raucous — and ultimately deadly — Friday night performance in Houston, the city’s police chief met with rapper Travis Scott to express his concern.
Their conversation lasted a few minutes, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said in a statement released Monday. Finner said he conveyed his “concerns regarding public safety” at the Astroworld Festival to Scott and the artist’s head of security.
Later that night, a high-energy scene turned deadly when the crowd surged toward the stage as Scott performed.
In the crush and chaos, eight people died, the victims ranging in age from 14 to 27, and scores more were injured.
In the days since the event, scrutiny of the festival’s organizers, its security personnel and Scott, a Houston native and local hero, has mounted — along with the legal fallout, as lawsuits have also begun to pile up. One expert estimated the potential liability to be “astronomical.”
Harris County officials identified the eight victims as John Hilgert, 14; Brianna Rodriguez, 16; Jacob Jurinek, 20; 21-year-olds Franco “Cuauhocelotl” Patiño and Axel Acosta; 23-year-olds Rodolfo Peña and Madison Dubiski; and 27-year-old Danish Baig.
Autopsies have been completed, a spokesperson for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said, and no cause or manner of death has been determined. That could take several weeks, according to the agency that conducts such exams.
In his statement, Finner said he had asked Scott and his team to work with police and to be “mindful of his team’s social media messaging on any unscheduled events.” The police chief described his meeting as “brief and respectful.”
He called on people to “be considerate of the grieving families during this incredibly difficult time. Please continue to lift them up in prayer.”
Finner did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for details about the conversation with Scott.
“In the days to come we’ll hear more about their stories, their dreams and what they hoped to accomplish in life,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, D, head of the county’s governing body, tweeted Monday. “To the parents, family members, and friends with a gaping hole in their hearts today, on behalf of the people of Harris County, we are with you.”
Scott said he is “devastated” by the deaths at his show, and he canceled his Nov. 13 headlining appearance at a music festival in Las Vegas. His website displays no future tour dates. The rapper said he plans to cover funeral costs for the victims of the tragedy, according to a statement.
Scott also pledged mental health support for his fans and said he is working with the online therapy network BetterHelp to provide a month of free counseling to anyone affected.
The festival’s organizers — Texas-based ScoreMore and national promoter Live Nation — said they are cooperating with investigators.
According to a statement released by ScoreMore, the companies’ staff members have met with police and have provided footage from event cameras. Concertgoers’ videos showed people urging camera operators to stop the show because of the chaos.
The companies have paused equipment removal “to give investigators the time they request to walk and document the grounds,” ScoreMore’s statement said.
A criminal investigation continues as authorities seek to understand what happened. Some, including Hidalgo, have called for an independent investigation, citing the police department’s own potential culpability in the disaster.
“Let’s find out who approved all this,” said Paul Wertheimer, head of Los Angeles-based Crowd Management Strategies. “You need an independent commission, which should include young people, in fact, to investigate that have no political connection to any of the parties.”
Wertheimer was a spokesman for Cincinnati in 1979, when a crowd surge killed 11 people at a Who concert, and he served on a task force charged with making recommendations to prevent a similar occurrence.
More than 40 years later, he said, authorities, promoters and others involved with concerts should know how to safely manage crowds. But there has long been tension between concert operators and safety officials, especially over standing-room environments, which he described as “extraordinarily, extraordinarily profitable.”
“This is the dark underbelly of concert live entertainment,” he said.
Several lawsuits have been filed by those who attended last week’s festival, and many more are expected in the coming days.
One suit filed Sunday against Scott, the organizers and rapper Drake on behalf of festivalgoer Kristian Paredes says they “knew or should have known” about prior conduct by Scott, whose concerts have a reputation for rowdiness.
Drake, who was a surprise guest at Scott’s performance, “helped incite the crowd even though” he knew of Scott’s prior conduct, according to Paredes’s lawsuit, and “continued to be onstage performing along side with [Scott] as the crowd became out of control.”
In a statement, Texas lawyer Thomas J. Henry, whose firm is representing Paredes, said, “Live musical performances are meant to inspire catharsis, not tragedy.”
In another lawsuit, filed over the weekend, Manuel Souza sued Scott, the organizers and others, saying their “motivation for profit at the expense of concertgoers’ health and safety” led to deaths and injuries. Souza said he was trampled and seriously injured, according to his lawsuit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages.
An estimated 50,000 people attended the festival and if enough of them sue, the case could become a class action, said Meredith J. Duncan, a University of Houston law professor.
“Not only is it going to be complicated by the fact that there is at least 50,000 plaintiffs, but also because of the huge number of people and organizations it takes to put on events of this magnitude,” Duncan said. “It has the potential to turn into very complex litigation.”
She added that “there is a potential for the liability to be astronomical.”
Legal experts said litigation could focus on why the event was not stopped when so many attendees were clearly in distress.
Sami Anjum, an EMT who said he worked as a medic at Astroworld for Paradocs, said he had heard traffic on his radio in which others working the event discussed possibly shutting down the concert early. He said he could not determine who was speaking or why ultimately the show continued.
Anjum, 28, said that medics saw an influx of people with complaints including drug overdoses, and that medics ran out of necessary equipment.
He said he and his colleagues began hearing reports of people having been trampled around 9 p.m. and that some decided it was too dangerous for them to venture out into the crowd.
He said the medical team was overwhelmed and was forced to triage. Anjum and others asked for reinforcements, he said, but were told colleagues were swamped in other parts of the park as well.
“We just had way too many patients to formally document anything that we should have been doing,” he said. “We just simply had too many patients and not enough medical staff.”
Executives and other representatives at the company that provided Astroworld’s security personnel, Contemporary Services Corp. (CSC) of Los Angeles, did not respond to several requests for comment.
The firm, a major player in the event security industry, has dozens of branches across the country that operate a network of tens of thousands of part-time workers who sign up for security shifts at sports stadiums, concerts and other large events.
CSC offered workers $10-$13 per hour to do security at Astroworld, according to an advertisement it posted online last month. Applicants were required to have a high school diploma or equivalent and to be eligible for a Texas non-armed security guard certification, which typically excludes people with serious criminal convictions.
Several people who worked Astroworld for CSC told The Post that they had been asked by police or the company not to speak to the media about their experiences.
Jason Huckabay, who is described in his LinkedIn profile as a Houston-based security director for CSC, said in public Facebook posts that he oversaw a security team at the event. On Friday, Huckabay posted criticisms of festival attendees even as the event was in progress.
The day after the event, Huckabay said in another Facebook post it was “sad that all those kids inside died and others are still in the hospital because this generation has no value in other peoples lives.” He said his guards had spent 10-hour shifts trying to stop “waves of (expletive) breaking down fences trying to rush in,” adding: “A lot of these idiots were from 15-22 in age.”
Reached by phone Monday, Huckabay declined to comment, citing advice from an attorney.
Billy Gemmill, owner of the Nashville-based event production and promotion company Six One Live who previously contracted with Live Nation, said there’s generally an emergency action plan agreed upon before the show. If certain conditions are met, then there’s a “stop show,” meaning the music is immediately cut while the problem is assessed.
“Normally if it’s getting too raucous or you can feel the energy shift the production manager or operations manager or general manager contacts the head of security to cut the music,” he said.
Organizers have a financial incentive to pack the venues and keep shows going, Gemmill said.
A planning document for the event said that the security protocol was informed in part by “numerous past experiences” and that incidents related to alcohol, drugs, “possible evacuation needs” and the “threat of a mass casualty situation” were “identified as key concerns.”
Scott has collected misdemeanor convictions in two states in recent years after authorities said he encouraged unruly audience behavior. In social media videos over the weekend, the performer said he is cooperating with Houston investigators.
“My fans really mean the world to me,” he said. “I am honestly just devastated. Anytime I could make out anything that was going on, I stopped the show and helped them get the help they need,” he added, in an apparent reference to other concerts. “I could just never imagine the severity of the situation.”
The Washington Post’s Travis Andrews, María Luisa Paúl and Brittany Shammas contributed to this report.