Medical Examiners Say 10 Who Perished at Astroworld Concert Died of Compression Asphyxia

Houston medical examiners announced Thursday the conclusion of their testing and ruled that all 10 people who died at Travis Scott's Houston Astroworld concert died from compression asphyxia as the crowd pressed against each other so tightly that they could not breathe or move.

One of the medical professionals who spoke said the likely explanation was the sudden and significant increase in pressure as people were pressed against each other forced the air from their lungs and likely lost consciousness within a minute due to oxygen deprivation.

The victims ranged in age from 9 to 27 years old, with all 10 deaths ruled an accident. One man was found to have cocaine, methamphetamine and ethanol in his system, likely contributing to the speed at which he lost oxygen.

About 300 people were treated for injuries on the scene, with 25 hospitalized.

Dr. George W. Williams, a critical care anesthesiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, located in Houston, said the victims likely had up to thousands of pounds of pressure suddenly placed on their chest, and probably felt "like being crushed by a car."

"Seconds really do count to allow for that person to recover and to be rescued from that terrible event ... The organs like the brain and the heart start getting injured and after three to four minutes that injury becomes so severe to where you can't bring that person back," Williams said.

Scott and other festival organizers are the subjects of a criminal investigation by the Houston Police Department over the events that led to the deaths, and the police have not said when the investigation will be completed or if charges will be filed. Hundreds of lawsuits have also been filed against Scott and organizers over the incident by family members of those who died and many who were injured.

Astroworld, Travis Scott, Medical Examiner, Compression Asphyxia
Visitors cast shadows at a memorial to the victims of the Astroworld concert in Houston on Nov. 7, 2021. The 10 people who lost their lives in a massive crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston died from compression asphyxia, officials announced Thursday. Robert Bumsted/Associated Press File

Medical examiners with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston had to wait several weeks following the Nov. 5 concert by rap superstar Travis Scott for additional test results before making final determinations on cause and manner of the deaths.

The 10 people who died were among 50,000 who attended the festival and were in the audience when Scott's concert turned deadly.

Williams said what happened at the Astroworld festival would not normally take place at say a party or other event as a very large crowd would be needed to create the conditions in which people would have the air squeezed out of their lungs because of the force on their chest, lose consciousness and die.

"It's a very scary thing to happen," Williams said.

Alex Hilliard, an attorney representing 9-year-old victim Ezra Blount's family, said the news of how the victims died is "devastating" to their families.

"There is not going to be one single family member that isn't completely broken into pieces all over again after learning of this information," Hilliard said.

James Lassiter, an attorney representing the family of Bharti Shahani, who died several days after the concert, said the medical examiner's findings confirmed her family's worst fears.

"Their beloved daughter's last living moments were surely marked with suffering, panic, and terror. It's a horrific, inescapable image that no parent should have to endure," Lassiter said.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Houston police said Thursday its investigators were still conducting interviews and reviewing video footage and other evidence and would provide updates in the coming weeks on the progress of its probe.

Scott's attorney reached out to the families of the 10 who died, offering to pay for their loved ones' funeral costs. Several families turned down the offer.

The top elected official in the county that includes Houston, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, had proposed a third-party probe of the planning and execution of the festival founded by Scott.

The Harris County administrator instead will work with other city and county entities to review security, fire and other safety plans at the county-owned NRG Park, where the festival was held.

Other members of Harris County's governing body, known as a commissioner's court, were concerned Hidalgo's investigation could lead to legal liabilities for the county.

Experts in crowd safety say an investigation by neutral outsiders could help avoid potential conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

A 56-page event operations plan for the Astroworld festival detailed protocols for dangerous scenarios, including a shooter, bomb or terrorist threats, and severe weather. But it did not include information on what to do in the event of a crowd surge.

A motion is pending before the Texas Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is overseen by the Texas Supreme Court, on whether to consolidate all the lawsuits and have them overseen by one judge. A board of judges in Harris County had earlier this month granted a different request to have all pretrial matters in the various lawsuits be handled by one judge. But the state judicial panel issued a stay in the litigation, overruling the order by the local board of judges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Astroworld, Travis Scott, Medical Examiner, Compression Asphyxia
A memorial to those who died at the Astroworld festival is displayed outside of NRG Park on Nov. 9, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Medical officials announced Thursday that the 10 people who died at the concert all died of compression asphyxia, meaning the air was forced out of their lungs under immense pressure and their brains and hearts failed due to lack of oxygen. Brandon Bell/Getty Images