Astroworld death toll rises to 9 after injured college student dies
A criminal investigation into the deaths at last week's music festival is underway
By Juan Lozano
HOUSTON — A 22-year-old college student who was critically injured in the crush of fans at the Astroworld festival in Houston has died, the family’s lawyer said Thursday, bringing the death toll to nine.
Bharti Shahani, who was set to graduate from Texas A&M University in the spring, died Wednesday night, attorney James Lassiter said during a news conference. All of the concertgoers who died following the Friday night show were between the ages of 14 and 27, underscoring how the tragedy unfolded in a mostly younger crowd.
A 9-year-old boy who was also injured at the sold-out festival of 50,000 people remained in a medically induced coma, according to family.
"For the first time in her life she just wanted to have fun, and that was taken from her,” said Namrata Shahani, her sister, who attended the concert with Bharti and their cousin.
Namrata Shahani said her sister's last words to her were, “Are you OK?”
Concertgoers have described the packed crowd growing dangerous even before headliner Travis Scott appeared on stage, and seeing people collapse while the rapper performed. Scott's attorneys have said he did not know about the deaths and injuries until after the show.
On Thursday, Scott's representatives said in a statement that he was distraught and has been trying to connect with the affected families to share condolences and provide them aid.
Hundreds of people were injured in the intensifying surge. A criminal investigation into the deaths at Astroworld is underway. Thursday was the last day attorneys who have filed more than 50 lawsuits to date were allowed access to the concert site at NRG Park, where the stage where Scott performed and surrounding crowd barricades have remained standing.
John Duff, whose clients include the family of the 9-year-old boy who remains hospitalized, said concertgoers in a section to the right of the stage would have had to go through thousands of people to access the main medical tent. He said the festival grounds are still littered with piles of bloody clothes, shoes, cellphone cases and bags.
“There was probably 1,000 pairs of shoes out there. It seems like a lot (of) people left barefoot or without clothes," he said. “You kind of felt a heavy presence out there.”
Scott was only minutes into his set when at least one Houston officer radioed over a police channel that the main stage had been compromised by a massive crowd surge.
Recordings of police radio traffic, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, reveal how quickly law enforcement became aware of the rising danger in the throng of concertgoers shortly after the star rapper began performing at the sold-out music festival, which drew about 50,000 people.
Scott took the stage in his hometown of Houston shortly after 9 p.m.
"Looks like folks are coming out of the crowd complaining of difficulty breathing, crushing-type injuries,” one official said over the police radio around 9:21 p.m., according to the audio obtained by the newspaper. “Seems like the crowd is compressing on itself.”
Scott kept performing his set, which lasted about an hour. The newspaper reported that officers spotted people leaving the crowd but that their voices remained calm through the first half hour.
“I’m at the medical tent,” one officer radioed in around 9:30 p.m. “There’s a lot of people trampled and they’re passed out at the front stage.”
Later, another officer says: "We’re getting multiple reports of people getting injured. We have another report of cardiac situation with CPR by the stage.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during a news conference Wednesday that police told organizers to shut down the performance when fans in the crowd were administered CPR. Authorities gave word around 10:03 p.m. that the concert was in the process of shutting down, but witnesses say Scott and Drake, the superstar rapper who came on toward the end of Scott's set as a special guest, kept performing.
Finner repeatedly refused to provide timelines, saying the case was still under investigation. He said more than 500 officers were working the festival, more than double the number assigned in 2019 when the festival was last held.
But Finner said festival organizers had not provided clear records of how many private security guards were working the show, describing what they turned over as “just not good.” It was up to Live Nation Entertainment, the show’s promoter, to secure two mosh pits in front of the stage, Finner said.
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.