Adam New Mug

Editor Adam Zuvanich

AstroWorld has long held a special place in the hearts of Houstonians, at least those of a certain age, who grew up making regular visits to the amusement park that operated from 1968 until 2005. I went at least once every summer as a kid and have vivid memories of sipping sugary drinks, being drenched by the Tidal Wave – both during the water ride and on the bridge afterward – and the constant creaking noises that came from the Texas Cyclone.

And who could forget Greezed Lightnin’ and the Sky Screamer, which sent your stomach soaring toward your throat but kept you coming back for more thrills?

Now, though, hearing or even reading the word “Astroworld” gives me chills and makes my gut churn for a much different reason. It also evokes the sound of panicked screams that would never come from someone enjoying a roller coaster ride.

The 57-acre property in Southwest Houston will forever be remembered for the awful, terrible, almost unthinkable tragedy that occurred the night of Nov. 5, when a surge among a packed crowd of concertgoers caused the deaths of 10 people between the ages of 9 and 27 while injuring hundreds more. They were attending the Astroworld music festival headlined by Houston rapper Travis Scott, who performed as some of his fans were fighting for their lives.

The deadly event is being analyzed and agonized all across the world and especially here in Houston, and it’s had a direct impact on the community we cover at The Leader. One of the victims was Heights High School student Brianna Rodriguez, a 16-year-old member of the Heights RedCoats dance team.

A week ago, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, we reported the news of Rodriguez’s death and the outpouring of support for her family. Prominent in this week’s edition of The Leader are stories about how the community continues to grieve and try to cope, having honored Rodriguez with a candlelight vigil on campus and then at Heights’ football playoff game last Saturday against Memorial – which also lost a student at Astroworld, 14-year-old John Hilgert.

The whole thing is just horrible and heartbreaking. I can hardly imagine what it’s like for the families and friends of Rodriguez, Hilgert and the other young people whose lives were cut way too short. And for what? Because fellow concertgoers got too hyped up and wanted to be closer to the stage?

We don’t yet know all the circumstances that contributed to the series of deaths and injuries, and it might be a while before we do. But plenty of fingers have been pointed and lots of blame has been thrown around.

There already have been dozens of lawsuits filed against Scott, fellow Astroworld performer Drake and event organizers. A lawsuit filed earlier this week by high-profile Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, on behalf of more than 100 clients, reportedly also names Apple Music, Epic Records and the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which operates festival site NRG Park, as defendants.

County leaders have been questioned for their potential role in the severity of the tragedy, and so have the Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department, which were helping to provide security and emergency services.

Millions if not billions of dollars will be awarded to the victims and their families once the litany of lawsuits make their way through the court system. And both the career and reputation of Scott, the 30-year-old Houston native who is known for riling up his fans and holding rowdy concerts, might be permanently tarnished if not outright ruined.

It would be hard to say any one person or company or governmental agency is solely responsible, although many may deserve to be held accountable for the parts they played in this disaster. We certainly cannot fault the victims and other concertgoers who bought tickets and went to the festival expecting to have a good time, even if the fun went too far.

I can’t help but wonder, if I were of high school or college age, if I would have been there on that fateful Friday night. Perhaps a lot of Houstonians who grew up listening to rap music – and going to AstroWorld – are grappling with that same thought.

One thing is for sure: The legacy of AstroWorld has forever been altered and damaged, which is a shame.

But it’s not remotely as much of a shame as the loss of 10 precious lives at a concert: Those of Rodriguez, Hilgert, 21-year-old Axel Acosta Avila, 27-year-old Danish Baig, 9-year-old Ezra Blount, 23-year-old Madison Dubiski, 20-year-old Jacob Jurinek, 21-year-old Franco Patino, 23-year-old Rudy Pena and 22-year-old Bharti Shahani.

Their families are broken, and the focus should continue to be on them and helping them grieve the loss of their loves ones and helping them find a way to move forward. It also should be on ensuring that something like this never happens again.

As for the AstroWorld site, maybe it can be transformed into a memorial for those who died there. It sure as shoot shouldn’t house any more roller coasters or host any more concerts.

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