Entertainment

‘This was not a concert, this was a fight for survival’

Travis Scott performs at Day 1 of the Astroworld Music Festival at NRG Park on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Houston. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

(CNN) — TK Tellez knows that festivals can get crazy. But nothing, he says, could have prepared him for the tragedy that unfolded Friday night at the Astroworld Festival in Houston.

It began an hour before Travis Scott was set to perform, as Tellez and his girlfriend stood near the stage in hopes of getting a better view of the rapper.

But before Scott even came out, things got ugly, fast. The crowd surged forward while Scott was on stage.

“The crowd became tighter and tighter, and at that point it was hard to breathe. When Travis came out performing his first song, I witnessed people passing out next to me,” Tellez, 20, told CNN.

“We were all screaming for help, and no one helped or heard us. It was horrifying. People were screaming for their lives, and they couldn’t get out. Nobody could move a muscle.”

At least eight people were killed and dozens injured in the ensuing crush that, according to people at the concert, apparently overwhelmed event staff and medical personnel at NRG Park. The dead ranged in age from 14 to 27.

Concertgoers described the event as traumatizing, with many witnesses saying they saw lifeless bodies being trampled amidst the chaos. Those who survived had to fight their way out of the crowd as the music raged on.

Here’s more of what Tellez and others witnessed:

‘It was the scariest sound I’ve ever heard’

People around Tellez began to fall, he said, at some point causing him to fall as well. People packed on top of him, some losing consciousness.

“Everybody was crying; it was the scariest sound I’ve ever heard,” Tellez said. “Imagine listening to Travis Scott and people screaming for their lives at the same time.”

Despite his attempts and other bystanders’ efforts to administer CPR to those who weren’t breathing, “there was just not enough people to help everyone,” he said.

“Travis Scott would have a short time in between songs, and we would scream our vocal chords out so someone could hear us but nobody did,” Tellez said. “This year’s festival will be stuck with me forever. I’ve never seen someone die in front of my eyes. It was horrific.”

‘I felt like it was a nightmare’

Selena Beltran, who was attending her first music festival, found everything around her begin to tighten more and more as Scott made his way to the stage. She soon struggled to breathe.

She quickly lost sight of her four friends, and as the crowd around her began to jump, she lost her balance.

“I fell backwards and it felt like it was the end for me. To think that’s how I’ll die, I was so scared,” Beltran told CNN. “I did not know what to do. It was all happening so fast, but so slow and I couldn’t react. I just screamed.”

Despite seeing people who had clearly lost consciousness, Beltran said, people continued trampling those who were on the ground.

“I was shocked to see people act so inconsiderate and feral. It was insane to see so many just run others over like wild animals,” she said. “People did not care, they still tried to squeeze through just to get to the front without thinking of the consequences and who it would affect.”

After someone pulled her up, Beltran said, she tried to help four other people she found passed out by taking turns performing CPR on them with a nurse she met in the crowd.

“I was beginning to go into shock, although I was trying to keep my composure and not panic. It was terrifying. I felt like it was a nightmare,” she said.

“I looked around and just saw people stare and others continuing to enjoy themselves as if these people meant nothing. It felt like there was little humanity in that crowd.”

Despite people’s screams to “stop the show,” the music continued, Beltran said. Other witnesses said Scott paused the show several times, and it was eventually stopped.

By the festival’s end, Beltran saw the bodies of people she performed CPR on being removed by medics, she said.

“I knew they had passed away,” she said. “I could not sleep last night. The moment kept replaying in my mind over and over again.”

‘Kids were dropping left and right’

Billy Nasser described the crowd surge that killed eight people Friday night as a “death trap.”

Nasser said he was one of the concertgoers who tried to help people who were getting stomped on as they were “fighting for their lives.”

“I picked some kid up and his eyes rolled to the back of his head, so I checked his pulse. I knew he was dead,” Nasser said. “I checked the people around me. And I just had to leave him there, there was nothing I could do. I had to keep going.”

“Kids were dropping left and right,” he said.

Nasser, who works as a DJ, said he just wanted the music to stop as people continued to party without “paying attention to the bodies dropping behind them.”

Despite yelling at the camera and light technicians and asking them to alert Scott to stop the festival, Nasser said there wasn’t enough staff on hand to handle the situation.

“There wasn’t enough security guards and there wasn’t enough EMTs and people helping out the crowd. The paramedics couldn’t even reach the crowd,” he said.

‘I felt like I was going to die’

Madeline Eskins said she didn’t believe she would make it out alive when the deadly crowd surge began.

“He started a countdown about 30 minutes before he performed — he started a timer on the big screen,” Eskins, an ICU nurse, told CNN about Scott’s performance. “And all of a sudden, people compressed up against each other and were pushing forward and backward. As the timer got closer to coming down to zero, it just — it got worse and worse.”

Eskins described being squeezed from all directions and felt pressure on her chest and back. When she started having trouble breathing, she asked her boyfriend to tell her son she loved him before she lost consciousness.

“It happens, people rush the stage, no big deal,” Eskins said. “It’s uncomfortable, some get hurt, but this was way overcrowded. I’ve never seen anything like it. I felt like I was going to die.”

After being crowdsurfed to safety, Eskins used her medical background to help other concertgoers in distress, but said there weren’t enough supplies.

“There was so little resources. I mean the medics that were there to help, a lot of them hadn’t been properly trained,” Eskins said. “That’s not to take away from what they were doing — they were still trying their best. They weren’t given the proper resources.”

At one point, she saw multiple people in cardiac arrest and the paramedic had only one automated external defibrillator (AED) and one Ambu bag, she said.

The main factor that contributed to the tragic chaos, Eskins said, was overcrowding.

“I’ve been to concerts and, yes, it gets tight, but I’ve never felt like I was going to pass out,” she said. “I never saw people collapsing. I definitely never saw anybody die.”

‘Never seen a show result in anything like this’

Joey Guerra, who has covered Houston’s music scene for about 10 years, had arrived at the festival in the early afternoon and throughout the day he saw a normal festival atmosphere.

By the time Scott took the stage later that night, Guerra was toward the back of the audience and saw small emergency vehicles cutting through the crowds but “for a festival, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary.”

“You see things like that a lot, people being carried out because of exhaustion or dehydration or things like that,” Guerra told CNN by phone Saturday morning. “He did stop the show, I want to say, three or four times when he noticed people in distress.”

Guerra said Scott played for about 75 minutes before the set was stopped.

‘My mind went into full survival mode’

Jeffrey Schmidt and his best friend Casey Wagner were ready for the best weekend of their life. Instead, they found themselves fighting for their lives.

Schmidt said he remembers feeling like the night was taking a turn for the worst when the 30-minute timer onstage began counting down, and with every minute breathing became more and more difficult.

“Me and Casey decided to try our best to make our way out of the crowd slowly. Little did we know, all hell was about to break loose. People started to pass out and fall to the ground,” Schmidt told CNN.

“Casey, I and other crowd members tried to hold back the crowd from trampling over them. But the force of the crowd was too powerful, and people started to topple on top of the them including Casey and I.”

The two friends found themselves reaching at each other for help, but were quickly separated when they were trampled under piles of bodies, with Schmidt’s legs stuck under other fallen concertgoers.

“At that moment my mind went into full survival mode. All I could hear was people screaming and crying for help,” Schmidt said. “I lost all hope and thought I was going to die right there because I could not get my legs out. I fought for my life.

“I thought I was never going to see my best friend again, life did not feel real,” he said.

Eventually, he made his way out of the chaos and ran to law enforcement officers for help, but they initially did not take him seriously, he said. Schmidt and Wagner later reunited, and both were “terrified and traumatized, he added.

“This was not a concert, this was a fight for survival,” Schmidt said.

“I witnessed multiple people unconscious and unable to breathe, as people under me were crying for my help. But I physically could not help. That is what traumatized me the most, that I could not help the people around me. I felt heartbroken for them and their families.”

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