Shared from the 11/11/2021 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Depth of chaos heard in HPD radio traffic

‘Not a lot we can do’ one official says amid the first reports that parts of crowd were in trouble

Jamaal Ellis / Contributor

“Looks like folks are coming out of the crowd complaining of difficulty breathing, crushing-type injuries,” an official said around 9:21 p.m. “Seems like the crowd is compressing on itself.”

Reports of breached barricades, injuries and breathing problems trickled over police radio airwaves in the minutes before authorities realized the depth of the Astroworld Festival chaos during the Travis Scott concert.

At least one Houston police officer — among the hundreds at the NRG stadium event — reported the main stage had been compromised around 9:11 p.m. The command post asked their helicopter above to take a closer look, according to police radio traffic from the Friday night concert. Scott had been onstage for mere minutes and concertgoers reported that some audience members were trying to escape the area closest to the stage at this point.

“There’s not a lot we can do,” an official stated, saying moments later that the breach was isolated to one section. “Stand by for now. We’ll have to wait, but the concert management will let us know.”

Two minutes later, an officer exclaimed into his radio that he could see more people scaling a gate, according to radio traffic obtained by the Chronicle.

Police Chief Troy Finner on Wednesday declined to elaborate on “specific timelines” of what happened during the concert. Homicide investigators, he said, are reviewing the eight deaths of people in their teens and 20s.

“Timelines are a major focus of the investigation right now,” Finner said at a news conference. “This type of investigation is going to take weeks, possibly months.”

The recordings, however, on police tactical channels offer another look at how authorities responded to the mounting problems. Voices of several police officers, dispatchers, police captains, at least one commander and members of the helicopter division can be heard in a review of radio traffic from about 9 to 10:15 p.m.

Authorities kept an eye on the stage and each other as Houston native Scott performed — officers were ordered to stick together in groups of 10 or more.

Some officers spotted people leaving the crowd but their voices remained calm through the first half hour.

A scattering of issues popped up in the minutes that followed. A breathing problem was reported at the Yellow Lot around 9:16 p.m. and a caller then warned of an assault near the stadium on Kirby Drive, outside the concert perimeter.

“Caller reported that people are getting stepped on — gives no actual location,” an official said.

More people started jumping the fence. Another voice in the radio traffic relayed that people were spilling out of the swarm of packed concertgoers.

“Looks like folks are coming out of the crowd complaining of difficulty breathing, crushing-type injuries,” an official said around 9:21 p.m. “Seems like the crowd is compressing on itself.”

At this point, the third-party medical vendor ParaDocs was referenced and authorities said the company’s medics were aware of the injuries. The concert kept going, however, as the crowd crammed together with intensity. A concertgoer recorded footage around this time of an unresponsive man receiving CPR amid the crowd.

“The intel we’re getting is that the barricades might be compromised or is being compromised,” an official continued. Moments later, another concertgoer captured video of fans climbing a speaker tower to escape the crushing crowd.

The extent of the chaos was not evident until minutes later. Police asked for a drone above the concert to get a better look than what the helicopter had. Someone asked when the concert was supposed to end, the audio continued. Scott was expected to wrap up at 10 p.m. but, an official said, the concert could go longer because of special guest performances. The artist Drake took to the stage after Scott.

‘Lot of people trampled’

Authorities at 9:30 p.m. then heard a panicked female officer ask for others to clear the airwaves.

“I’m at the medical tent,” she said. “There’s a lot of people trampled and they’re passed out at the front stage.”

Her call-out prompted a Houston Fire Department district chief listening from the distant Orange Lot to self-dispatch first responders from the department to the concert — a rare decision. Authorities fielded reports of people unconscious in the crowd. An officer at the command post urged anyone listening to take care of themselves.

“That crowd is super thick,” he said, issuing a grave warning that the situation could quickly devolve into an officer rescue situation. “Be careful.”

Authorities turned their attention to people scaling media equipment to escape the swarm below.

“There’s a large group of people that are climbing their media tower that are in front of the stage,” an official said. “People are about to fall off and their media people at the booth are calling ‘mayday’ requests to get out and they can’t get out. They are deep inside the crowd.”

Dire situation

The command post relayed a dire situation at 9:38 p.m., about when the mass casualty incident was declared. Radio traffic became increasingly unintelligible and the command post encouraged law enforcement to take a “deep breath” before getting on the radio.

“We’re getting multiple reports of people getting injured,” an officer said. “We have another report of cardiac situation with CPR by the stage.”

Ray Hunt, Houston Police Officers’ Union’s executive director, said he believes prior to 9:30 p.m., the tone of the radio traffic was similar to other large events, such as a concert or what he heard last year at a George Floyd march.

“They did not know the scope of the situation — they only knew what was going on in their individual area,” he said, after listening to the radio traffic for the first time.

He noted that the officer at a command post acted as a voice of calm and kept his cool as authorities declared a mass casualty incident.

Authorities gave word around 10:03 p.m. that the concert was in the process of shutting down.

“The show has been shut off so please remain where you are,” a woman said over the air. “The show has been stopped.”

Scott and Drake, however, continued performing for more than 10 minutes, witnesses said.

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