Astroworld's security staffing unclear, chief says; Travis Scott's attorney decries 'finger-pointing'
HOUSTON - Organizers of the Astroworld music festival have not provided investigators with clear records about private security personnel working the grounds when a massive crowd surge during headliner Travis Scott’s set led to at least eight deaths, Houston’s police chief said Wednesday.
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It was up to Live Nation Entertainment, the show’s promoter, to secure two mosh pits in front of the stage Friday night at the sold-out festival of 50,000 people, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference. He described staffing records handed over by organizers as "just not good" but emphasized that he was not placing any blame.
But key questions are still unknown five days after the tragedy, which left hundreds of other concertgoers injured, including at least two who were still in critical condition. Finner said police told organizers to shut down the performance when fans in the crowd were administered CPR. But he repeatedly declined to provide timelines, making it unclear at what point that order came in Scott’s roughly hourlong set, and how much longer the show lasted after the directive was given.
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"When you say authority and ability to end the show, we don’t hold the plug. But it’s always in the plan, it’s always a discussion of how that would happen," he said. "We had those discussions with the promoters."
Scott’s attorneys on Wednesday pointed to an operational plan for the event that states only the festival director and executive producers have the authority to stop the show, "neither of which is part of Travis’s crew."
"Investigations should start proceeding over finger-pointing so that together, we can identify exactly what transpired and how we can prevent anything like this from happening again," attorney Edwin F. McPherson said in a statement.
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Finner also forcefully defended his department’s ability to handle the criminal investigation on its own, rejected calls for an outside probe and said he did not have a close relationship with Scott, who is from Houston and founded the festival.
Finner said he expressed safety concerns to Scott before the Friday night show but did not go into detail. He said he has only ever spoken with Scott twice.
"I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t going to be safe," Finner said. "But I’m the kind of chief that I meet with people whenever I can, and that includes him. We had a very respectful, few minute conversation on my concerns."
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Speaking to reporters for just the second time since the tragedy, Finner was defensive at times and criticized what he described as rumors and speculation surrounding what happened.
About 530 Houston police officers worked the festival, more than twice as many as when the festival was last held in 2019, according to Finner. He repeatedly cautioned that the investigation was still in the early stages and said he would not "cast blame" on any organization.
Todd Mensing, another attorney representing Scott, told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the artist only found out about injuries and deaths in the crowd after the show.
At least two concertgoers remained in critical condition Wednesday. Officials have not disclosed details about the fans who have been hospitalized since Friday, but the family of a 9-year-old boy who attended the concert with his father has said the child was in a medically induced coma after sustaining injuries to his heart, lungs and brain.
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9-year-old Ezra Blount is hospitalized on life support after being severely injured at the Astroworld festival. (Photo Courtesy of Blount Family)
"How did this happen? That is a question that remains on all of our minds," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said earlier Wednesday. "How did this happen? Where were the missteps? Where were the failures? Where were the gaps? We owe it to the family members, all of those who attended and quite frankly the city as a whole, to the first responders, all of them, how did this happen?"
Turner read the names of the eight people who died before pausing a City Council meeting for a moment of silence. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 27 and came from Texas, Illinois and Washington state, according to authorities.
Finner said there was no evidence that a security guard near the crowd had unknowingly received an injection during the show, despite reports.
The festival grounds and stage where Scott performed have yet to be disassembled as authorities and attorneys representing the injured and their families continued combing the area. The festival was held on a parking lot that is part of NRG Park, a complex consisting of stadiums, an arena and a convention center.
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Bernon Blount said his son and 9-year-old grandson, Ezra, attended the festival together but became separated during the crowd surge. He said Tuesday that the child was in a medically induced coma at a Houston hospital.
"I’m angry because it’s disrupted our family, and this could have been avoided if people in positions of power had done the right thing," Blount said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced the formation of a task force to develop concert safety recommendations, which he said would "ensure that the tragedy that occurred at the Astroworld Festival never happens again."
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Experts say crowd surge deaths happen because people are packed into a space so tightly that they can’t get enough oxygen. It’s not usually because they’re being trampled.