HOUSTON (AP) — Authorities said they would watch video, interview witnesses and review concert protocols to determine how eight people died at a Houston music festival when fans suddenly surged toward the stage to watch rapper Travis Scott.
City officials said Saturday they were in the early stages of investigating the pandemonium that unfolded Friday evening at Astroworld, a sold-out, two-day event in NRG Park with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance. One attendee said that as a timer clicked down to the start of Scott’s performance, the crowd pushed forward.
“As soon as he jumped out on the stage, it was like an energy took over and everything went haywire,” concertgoer Niaara Goods said. “All of a sudden, your ribs are being crushed. You have someone’s arm in your neck. You’re trying to breathe, but you can’t.”
Goods said she was so desperate to get out that she bit a man on the shoulder to get him to move.
The dead ranged in age from 14 to 27, and 13 people were still hospitalized Saturday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. He called the disaster “a tragedy on many different levels” and said it was too early to draw conclusions about what went wrong. Dozens were injured.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official. “But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”
Experts who have studied deaths caused by crowd surges say they are often a result of density — too many people packed into a small space. The crowd is often running either away from a perceived threat or toward something they want, such as a performer, before hitting a barrier.
G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the United Kingdom’s University of Suffolk, has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds. He said he usually does not look at eyewitness reports in the early stages of analyzing an incident because emotions can cloud the picture, and witnesses can see only what’s immediately around them.
Based on fire codes, the venue could have held 200,000 people, but city officials limited the attendance to 50,000, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
“It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd began to surge toward the stage,” Peña said.
The deaths called to mind a 1979 concert by The Who where 11 people died as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. Other past crowd catastrophes include the deaths of 97 people in an overcrowded Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters connected with the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia.
People in the Houston crowd reported lots of pushing and shoving during the performances leading up to Scott’s set.
Then when Scott took the stage, the crowd seemed to rush to the front, trying to get closer to the stage, said Nick Johnson, a high school senior from the Houston suburb of Friendswood who was at the concert.
“Everyone was passing out around you, and everyone was trying to help each other. But you just couldn’t move. You couldn’t do anything. You can’t even pick your arms up,” Johnson said. “It just got worse and worse.”
Johnson said fans started to crush each other, and people started screaming. He said it felt like 100 degrees in the crowd.
Scott seemed to be aware that something was going on in the crowd, but he might not have understood the severity of the situation, Johnson said. A social media posting shows fans who appear to be dozens of rows from the stage chanting “stop the show” while Scott is performing. Another post shows two fans climbing a ladder aboard a platform and asking a cameraman to do something.
On video posted to social media, Scott could be seen stopping the concert at one point and asking for aid for someone in the audience: “Security, somebody help real quick.”
In a tweet posted Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.” He pledged to work “together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer for The Associated Press, described an “aggressive” crowd atmosphere throughout the day because of the way fans were behaving — pushing and rushing the stage barricades and prohibited VIP and admission areas.
“It was definitely the most chaotic festival environment that I’ve been in,” Harris said. “I felt uneasy all day.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his department noticed attendees “going down” at 9:30 p.m. and immediately notified concert organizers. The event was called off 40 minutes later after discussions that included the fire department and officials with NRG Park.
Finner defended the amount of time it took for the event to be canceled.
“You cannot just close when you’ve got 50,000 — over 50,000 — individuals, OK?” Finner said. “We have to worry about rioting — riots — when you have a group that’s that young.”
At one point, Gerardo Abad-Garcia was pressed so tightly into the crowd that he could not move his arms off his chest. During the performance that came before Scott’s, he started getting concerned for his safety.
“I just couldn’t breathe. I was being compressed,” he said. A security guard helped him and others climb a fence and get out.
He described the crowd during Scott’s set as a wave that was “going forward and backward.” He said some people tried to help those who were passed out on the ground, while other concertgoers seemed to ignore them and continued watching the show.
Some audience members said barricades erected near the stage and to separate different sections of ticket holders prevented fans from escaping.
Billy Nasser described an area created by a stage barricade as a closet that people were thrown into and the door was shut. Joshua Robinson said the barricades created an area that “was just way too small and compact” for the number of people there.
Part of the investigation will include reviewing how the area around the stage was designed, the fire chief said.
Authorities did not disclose the causes of death, and the dead were not immediately identified.
The police chief said authorities were investigating reports of suspicious activity in the crowd, including a security officer who told police that he felt a prick in his neck during the chaos and lost consciousness while being examined by first responders. He was revived by the opioid antidote Narcan.
Scott, one of music’s biggest young stars, founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018. The 29-year-old Houston native has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. He has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she’s pregnant with their second child.
Drake joined Scott on-stage at the concert, which was livestreamed by Apple Music.
Associated Press writers Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; Stan Choe in New York; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and Desiree Seals in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press
Michael Gambon, actor who played Prof. Dumbledore in 6 ‘Harry Potter’ movies, dies at age 82
Members of the cast of the Harry Potter films, from left, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe during grand opening ceremonies of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando theme park in Orlando, Florida, Friday, June 18, 2010. Actor Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore in the later Harry Potter films, has died at age 82, his publicist says. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
LONDON (AP) — Veteran actor Michael Gambon, who was known to many for his portrayal of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight “Harry Potter” films, has died, his publicist said Thursday. He was 82.
A statement by his family, issued by his publicist, said he died following “a bout of pneumonia.”
“We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon. Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside,” his family said.
No matter what role he took on in a career that lasted more than five decades, Gambon was always instantly recognizable by the deep and drawling tones of his voice. He was cast as the much-loved Dumbledore after the death of his predecessor, Richard Harris, in 2002.
He once acknowledged not having read any of J. K. Rowling’s best-selling books, arguing that it was safer to follow the script rather than be too influenced by the books. That didn’t prevent him from embodying the spirit of Professor Dumbledore, the powerful wizard who fought against evil to protect his students.
Although the Potter role raised Gambon’s international profile and introduced him to a new generation of fans, he had long been recognized as one of Britain’s leading actors. His work spanned TV, theater and radio, and he starred in dozens of films from “Gosford Park” to “The King’s Speech” and the animated family movie “Paddington.”
Gambon was knighted for services to drama in 1998.
Born in Ireland on Oct. 19, 1940, Gambon was raised in London and originally trained as an engineer, following in the footsteps of his father. He made his theater debut in a production of “Othello” in Dublin.
In 1963 he got his first big break with a minor role in “Hamlet,” the National Theatre Company’s opening production, under the directorship of the legendary Laurence Olivier.
Gambon soon became a distinguished stage actor and received critical acclaim for his leading performance in “Life of Galileo” directed by John Dexter. He was frequently nominated for awards and won the Laurence Olivier award 3 times and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards twice.
A multi-talented actor, Gambon was also the recipient of four coveted British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for his television work.
He became a household name in Britain after his lead role in the 1986 BBC series “The Singing Detective,” written by Dennis Potter and considered a classic of British television drama. Gambon won the BAFTA for best actor for the role.
Gambon was versatile as an actor but once told the BBC of his preference for playing “villainous characters.” He played gangster Eddie Temple in the British crime thriller “Layer Cake” — a review of the film by the New York Times referred to Gambon as “reliably excellent” — and a Satanic crime boss in Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.”
He also had a part as King George V in the 2010 drama film “The King’s Speech.” In 2015 he returned to the works of J.K. Rowling, taking a leading role in the TV adaptation of her book “The Casual Vacancy.”
Gambon retired from the stage in 2015 after struggling to remember his lines in front of an audience due to his advancing age. He once told the Sunday Times Magazine: “It’s a horrible thing to admit, but I can’t do it. It breaks my heart.”
The actor was always protective when it came to his private life. He married Anne Miller and they had one son, Fergus. He later had two sons with set designer Philippa Hart.
The Associated Press
Winnipeg man pleads guilty to manslaughter in the death of Saskatchewan RCMP officer
A man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of a Saskatchewan RCMP officer. RCMP Constable Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. Patton, of the Indian Head Detachment, was killed on June 12, 2021, after being hit by a pickup truck during a traffic stop. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
By Jeremy Simes in Regina
The mother of a Saskatchewan RCMP officer who was killed two years ago says it was “hell” to watch a Winnipeg man plead guilty to manslaughter in her son’s death.
Alphonse Stanley Traverse pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the charge in Regina Court of King’s Bench for his role in Const. Shelby Patton’s death. Traverse also pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing a motor vehicle.
“It’s very traumatic,” Melanie Patton, the mother of the 26-year-old Mountie, said in an interview.
“It’s better than sitting through a trial, but at the same time there’s so much trauma and we’re not going to recover. It’s like I’m living in hell.”
Shelby Patton was killed more than two years ago when he attempted to stop a stolen truck, driven by Traverse, near the town of Wolseley, east of Regina.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Traverse had been driving from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan in June 2021 to play VLTs. He was with Marlene Pagee at the time, and they chose to go to Saskatchewan because bars were open in the province. COVID-19 measures meant bars were closed in Manitoba.
Traverse was on warrant status for various Criminal Code offences, the document said, and Pagee had been on bail with conditions. She also faces one count of accessory to murder after the fact in Patton’s death.
Court heard Traverse and Pagee were driving a stolen green truck as they made their way to Saskatchewan. They were both using crystal meth.
However, the green truck wasn’t working well, so Traverse and Pagee began looking for another vehicle. The document said they came across another truck near Pipestone, Man., and stole it. The truck was unlocked and had keys in the ignition.
The document said Traverse and Pagee made their way to Wolseley and stopped outside a hotel. Patton was then dispatched to investigate a suspected stolen truck in town.
When Patton arrived, court heard the couple noticed the Mountie’s car, so they decided to drive away. However, Patton stopped them shortly thereafter and walked towards the driver’s window, speaking with Traverse.
Court heard Patton had asked Traverse if he worked for the company that owned the truck. Traverse lied, saying he did. Patton then told him the truck had been reported stolen, asking him to step out of the vehicle until the issue could be sorted.
Traverse then turned to Pagee, saying “I can’t,” and started the truck.
Court heard Patton stepped up on the truck’s running board and reached for the key’s inside. The truck then accelerated rapidly and jerked.
The document said Patton fell off the running board. The rear driver-side tire ran over his body, killing him.
Melanie Patton said her son’s death was no accident.
“He was a very good officer. He did not make a mistake,” she said. “I’m sure any officer would have done the same. The job is very dangerous and getting more dangerous, unfortunately.”
She said she hopes Traverse is given the maximum penalty.
Traverse is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 17.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.
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