The rapper Travis Scott has said he is “devastated” after the deaths of at least eight people at his Astroworld music festival and urged those with information to contact the authorities as at least two investigations, one of them criminal, got under way into the deadly crush.
Eight people were killed in a crowd surge at the Houston festival on Friday night, ranging in age from 14 to 27, and dozens were injured in a rush towards the stage shortly after 9pm, while Scott was performing.
Officials in Houston said autopsies on Friday’s victims were being performed as soon as possible so their bodies could be returned to family members, with the identities of some of the dead expected to be released on Sunday.
In statements posted to Twitter and Instagram, Scott said the police had his total support as they “look into this tragic loss of life” and would work with the Houston community to “heal and support” families in need. He said he could “just not imagine the severity of the situation” from the stage.
“I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld festival,” he said.
“Anytime I can make out anything that’s going on, ya know, I stop the show and you know, help them get the help they need. I could just not imagine the severity of the situation.
“To the ones that was lost last night, we’re working right now to ID the families so we can help assist them through this tough time […] ‘If you have any information please just contact the local authorities.”
Lina Hildago, the Harris County judge, has called for an “objective, independent” investigation into the tragedy.
“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.”
She said: “When we read these ages – 14, 16, 21, 21, 23, 23, 27 – it just breaks your heart and I know that the images we’ve seen are hard to stomach and I imagine more will surface that are hard to stomach.”
The 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.
The city’s fire chief, Samuel Peña, said several concertgoers had to be revived with the anti-drug overdose medicine Narcan, including a security officer who appeared to have been injected in the neck with a substance.
Finner told reporters there were “a lot of narratives out there right now” about alleged criminal behavior among festivalgoers.
“I think that all of us need to be respectful of the families and make sure that we follow the facts and evidence and that’s what we’re trying to do here in the Houston police department,” he said.
Scott, 29, who is from Houston, founded the Astroworld festival in 2018 and it has taken place at NRG Park each year since except for 2020.
Scott’s performance on Friday was livestreamed by Apple Music. The Houston Chronicle reported that the rapper stopped a number of times during the 75-minute set when he spotted fans in distress, asking security to help them. Emergency vehicles, with lights flashing and alarms sounding, cut through the crowd.
A senior Houston police officer, Larry Satterwhite, who was near the front, said it seemed the surge “happened all at once”.
“Suddenly we had several people down on the ground, experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode,” he said. “And so we immediately started doing CPR, and moving people right then, and that’s when I went and met with the promoters and they agreed to end early in the interest of public safety.”
An audience member, Seanna Faith McCarty, described the chaos.
“Within the first 30 seconds of the first song, people began to drown – in other people,” she wrote on Instagram. “The rush of people became tighter and tighter. Breathing became something only a few were capable of. The rest were crushed or unable to breathe in the thick, hot air.”
McCarty said she realised she and those around her were at risk of being trampled to death. “It was like watching a Jenga tower topple,” she wrote. “Person after person were sucked down. You could not guess from which direction the shove of hundreds of people would come next. You were at the mercy of the wave.”
Niaara Goods, 28, of New York, said the crowd surged as a timer clicked down to the start of the performance.
“As soon as he jumped out on the stage, it was like an energy took over and everything went haywire. 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,” said Goods, who travelled to Texas to see friends and to celebrate a birthday.
She said she and her friends, one of whom was punched on the head and jaw, were quickly separated but all escaped. Goods said she was so desperate to get out that she bit a man on the shoulder to get him to move.
“Some people are laughing at us – those who are screaming to get out. Because they thought it was funny. They didn’t realise it was terror,” she said.
Later, after getting to safety, she saw the injured streaming to safety in gurneys or in wheelchairs.
“It was literally the scariest night of my life. I literally thought I was going to die trying to get out. That’s just not what you pay for,” she said.
Officials transported 17 people to hospital, including 11 in cardiac arrest, Peña said. The event’s promoters had arranged for medical units to be on the scene but they were “quickly overwhelmed”. More than 300 were treated in a field hospital. Peña said one person hurt was 10 years old. Approximately 50,000 people attended the event, Peña added.
It was the highest number of accidental deaths at a US concert since the Station nightclub fire, which killed 100 people in Rhode Island in 2003.
In a statement, organisers said: “Our hearts are with the Astroworld festival family tonight – especially those we lost and their loved ones.”
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report