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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

‘Mass loss of control’: the answers were sought at a concert in Houston

JUAN A. LOZANO and JAMIE STENGL

HUSTON (AP) – When rapper Travis Scott’s sold-out concert in Houston turned into a deadly scene of panic and danger in a growing crowd, Edgar Acosta began to worry about his son not answering his phone calls.

He called hospitals and the police, who told him that his son was not on the Astroworld victim list. They were wrong: 21-year-old Axel Acosta Avila was among eight people who died Friday night at an open-air festival that was attended by about 50,000 people and is currently the subject of a criminal investigation.

On Monday, authorities released the names of those killed, continuing to figure out what went wrong as a crowd of fans moved forward after Scott took the stage. The Houston police chief said Monday that he met with Scott ahead of the rapper’s Friday speech over security concerns, but did not elaborate on what specifically worries him.

“They told me, Mr. Acosta, that your son is not on the list, so you have nothing to worry about. He is not on the list of dead or wounded, ”said Edgar Acosta, whose family is among those who are suing the organizers of the festival.

“I told them, ‘Well, he didn’t spend the night at his hotel, so I’m worried about him.”

Investigators from the Houston police and fire department said they would study the video filmed by the promoter of the Live Nation concert, as well as dozens of clips of the show’s participants that were widely shared on social media. Investigators also planned to speak with representatives of Live Nation, Scott and concertgoers.

Live Nation said on Monday that it had provided authorities with all surveillance footage of the festival and had paused the removal of equipment at the request of investigators who walked the grounds. The organizer said that full refunds will be offered to all participants.

Scott, who founded the Astroworld festival, said he would cover the costs of the victims’ funerals. According to the Harris County authorities, the dead were between the ages of 14 and 27 from Texas, Illinois and Washington. Among them were high school students, an aspiring border patrol agent, and a computer science student.

More than 300 people were treated in a field hospital on-site, and at least 13 others were hospitalized. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his pre-show meeting with Scott included the rapper’s head of security. But Finner did not elaborate on their conversation in a statement released by the police department.

“I asked Travis Scott and his team to work with HPD at all weekend events and follow his team’s social media posts on any upcoming events,” Finner said. “The meeting was short and respectful and provided me with an opportunity to share my concerns about public safety as a police chief.”

Investigators also interviewed witnesses and planned to examine the design of the security fences and the use of riot control at the event.

“It’s not the crowd’s fault at all, because it was not even possible to move, it felt like a massive loss of control,” said 19-year-old festival participant Ben Castro. On Monday, he returned to the venue to leave flowers at an impromptu memorial containing notes, T-shirts and candles. He said that he did not know that someone died until the next day.

The medical examiners still haven’t named the cause of death, which could take weeks, said Michelle Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Forensic Science Institute.

Contemporary Services Corp. headquartered in Los Angeles was responsible for security at the festival, according to the county in Texas. The company describes itself on the Internet as “recognized worldwide as a pioneer, expert and only employee-owned crowd control company.” Company representatives did not respond to emails and phone messages asking for comment.

Astroworld organizers have outlined security and emergency medical protocols in festival plans filed with Harris County. The 56-page operational plan received by the AP states that “the potential for a multitude of alcohol / drug incidents, possible evacuation needs and the constant threat of mass casualties are key concerns.”

The plan instructs personnel to “notify Event Control of the alleged deceased victim using the Smurf code.” It goes on to say, “Never use the terms” dead “or” deceased “on the radio.” It is unclear if protocol was followed.

None of the individuals listed on Astroworld’s security and operations management list responded to requests for comment.

Such disasters at concerts, sports and religious events have a long history. In 1979, 11 people were killed when thousands of fans tried to enter the Riverfront Colosseum in Cincinnati to see The Who concert. Other mass disasters include the death of 97 people at a football match at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters associated with the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

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This story has been updated to correct Axel Acosta’s father Avila’s name to Edgar rather than Edward.

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Associated Press Writers Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Randall Chase in Dover, Delaware; Christine M. Hall of Nashville and Bob Christie of New Bloomfield, PA contributed to this report.

World Nation News Desk
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