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'They were not breathing': Astroworld survivors recount bodies trampled, overwhelmed security

HOUSTON –  Before the end of Travis Scott’s first song, Jessica Ramirez sensed the concert had gone horribly wrong. 

Concertgoers at the Astroworld Festival on Friday were wedged into massive crowds, she said. A woman pushed past with a bloody face. Then the bodies started to come, handed overhead by visitors and placed in a row on the pavement nearby. 

"While he was performing, more bodies were coming," said Ramirez, 29, from Los Angeles. "It was horrible."

Witnesses on Saturday recounted the panicked crush at the concert that led to eight deaths and dozens ferried to area hospitals. Some were trapped in the crowds, unable to move or leave the concert. Others recalled seeing emergency personnel working to revive the unconscious victims, only to be trampled themselves by concertgoers. 

Witnesses described a complete breakdown in order and security at the show where more than 50,000 people crowded a former Six Flags amusement park. Houston native Scott was hosting his first Astroworld Festival after taking a break last year when the coronavirus pandemic caused the festival that launched in 2018 to take a break. This year's two-day show sold 100,000 tickets and featured Drake, SZA and more.

"They didn't have enough security," said Malibu Campbell, 20, of New York City, who fell in the crowd but managed to escape. "His shows are like this. Why didn't they know? They should've been better prepared."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday at a news conference that 25 people were transported to hospitals and 13 remained hospitalized. A 10-year-old was in critical condition, officials said. More than 300 injuries were treated onsite.

The victims who died ranged in age from 14 to 27, Turner said. One person's age was unknown. 

Astroworld Festival victims were teens, college students and one aspiring model

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she directed county agencies to launch an independent investigation into what went wrong at the sold-out show.

"The families and those who died deserve answers as to what took place last night," she said at a news conference Saturday. 

Since early Friday morning, there were signs that things would get rowdy. 

People arrived outside the event grounds before 6 a.m. to get a spot in line and to buy Astroworld sweaters and other merchandise before it sold out, said Julius Tlacuapa, 17, who was in that line. 

Someone yelled out, "Travis Scott is here!" and the crowd pushed its way in, stampeding past security checkpoints, he said. 

"Since 5:30 in the morning, this crowd was out of control," Tlacuapa said. 

Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld music festival at NRG Park in Houston on Nov. 5, 2021.

Campbell arrived early enough to the Scott show to make it to about 30 yards from the stage before the performer came out. As the crowd thickened, she tried to retreat but was wedged in, unable to move. Several times, she was lifted off her feet by the crowd, she said. 

As Scott stepped on stage, someone shoved her from behind, and she fell to the pavement. Feet trampled over her. She said she pinched people's ankles around her until someone made enough space for her to get up. She had to wait until the concert was over to leave the premises, she said. 

Bouquets of flowers decorate a fence surrounding the Astroworld Festival grounds on Nov. 6, 2021, in Houston.

Saturday, she laid a bouquet of pink roses at a memorial sprouting up outside the event grounds. 

"It could've been me," she said. 

Natalia Pawuk, 16, and her sister Sylvia, 19, flew in from Rochester, New York, with other family members to attend Astroworld. They arrived late to the festival but in time to see Scott perform.

"She got there, started crying yesterday. She was so happy," Natalia said.

It was a blessing they got there late, Natalia said.

"A few minutes later, we saw someone getting CPR on the ground," she said. "And we saw ambulances go by, stretchers and stuff, but we didn't know the extent of it."

She said, "Until I woke up this morning, I didn't know the severity of everything that happened."

Thalia Carrillo, 28, and Javier Garza, 28, from Dallas, made their way close to the stage for the Scott show. Thirty seconds in, Carrillo said, she felt the crush of the crowd behind her and sensed things were wrong. She couldn't lift her arms because so many people were around her. She had a hard time breathing.

Garza wrapped his arms around her from behind and slowly pushed their way out of the crowd. On their way out, he stopped to help the crowd pass overhead a young teen who had fainted. It took Garza and Carrillo about 25 minutes to extract themselves, he said. 

"It felt like hell on earth," Garza said. "We were trapped, and there was no way out."

Ramirez spent all day on the festival grounds with her wife, Claudia. They secured a pass for accessible seating for people with disabilities from event staff because of Claudia's back injury and positioned themselves to watch the Scott show from a cordoned-off area midway between the stage and the back of the concert area, Jessica Ramirez said.

By the end of the first song, people were screaming and panicking, she said. An unconscious concertgoer was passed into the section where she was. Then another. And another. Before the third song was done, five bodies were laid on the ground next to her, paramedics and other concertgoers frantically trying to revive them. 

As the crush continued, desperate visitors hurdled the small fence circling the accessible seating area, trampling bodies and the paramedics working on them,  Ramirez said. The bodies lay lifeless. 

"They were not breathing," she said. "They were unconscious for over 20 minutes. They were gone."

Ramirez said they had to wait for the concert to finish before they were able to leave, following the thinning crowds. 

She doesn't blame Travis Scott, she said. She blames whoever provided security for the event, she said. 

"There was too little security and too many people," Ramirez said. "They were understaffed."

Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.