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What is compression asphyxia? Houston doctor explains cause of death for Astroworld victims

All 10 victims suffered from what's known as compression asphyxia, according to a report released Thursday.

HOUSTON — The victims who died in last month's Astroworld Festival tragedy all suffered from compression asphyxia, according to a report released Thursday by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Ten people, ranging in ages from 9-years-old to 27, died after attending the Astroworld Festival, an annual music event organized by headliner Travis Scott.

Compression asphyxia occurs when air is cut off from the body due to external pressure, according to the National Library of Medicine.

“When we have compression asphyxiation, you’re looking at so much force – hundreds of pounds of force outside the chest -- to where there’s force outside the chest emptying the chest," Dr. George W. Williams with UT Health Houston said. “When there’s barely standing room and you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with people both in the front and the back, all it takes is one person tripping on a rock or pushing forward to where you get a domino effect and one person pushes another and the next and the next. And all that collective weight can end up on just a few people.”

In addition to compression asphyxia, the medical examiner's report listed a contributing cause of death for one of the victims, 27-year-old Mirza Danish Baig, as combined toxic effects of cocaine, methamphetamine, and ethanol.

The causes of deaths were released more than a month after the tragedy where hundreds were injured as the massive crowd surged the stage during the first evening of the multi-day music event.

The youngest victim, 9-year-old Ezra Blount, fought for his life for days while in a medically-induced coma at Texas Children's Hospital. Blount was at the concert with his father, Treston, when the crowd surge crushed both of them.

"I began to be crushed until I couldn't breathe," Treston said last month. "I passed out and I woke up my son was gone."

The oldest victim, Baig, was trying to protect his fiancé from being trampled when he went down, according to his brother at the time.

"I was there and i wasnt [sic] able to save my brother," Basil Baig said in a Facebook post last month.

Attorneys for victims' families were quick to react to the report Thursday, including Tony Buzbee, who is representing the family of Axel Acosta, one of the ten people who died.

"The report confirms what the family already knew," Buzbee said in a statement. "Which is that Axel was crushed and killed that night by the crowd, through no fault of his own."

"The medical examiner’s findings confirm Bharti’s family’s worst fears,” attorney James Lassiter said. “Their beloved daughter’s last living moments were surely marked with suffering, panic, and terror."

Lassiter's firm represents the family of Bharti Shahani, one of the victims.

Buzbee used the moment to lash out at Houston Police Chief Troy Finner over earlier claims that some fans had been injected with drugs.

"Shame on you," Buzbee said in the statement. "Shame on you for perpetuating and giving credence to a silly rumor that people were being injected at the concert. In doing so, you added more pain to an already unbearably painful situation for Axel’s family."

The injection claims were made days after the tragedy when Finner gave details of a report that a security guard had felt a prick and believed it may have been narcotics. Those claims were later walked back.

What happened during Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival?

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said events started to escalate about 9:30 p.m. when a crowd surge took place during one of Travis Scott's performances.

People were trampled, some went unconscious, and at least a few went into cardiac arrest during the chaos. KHOU 11 talked to several witnesses who reported being pushed and shoved as the crowd of 50,000 festivalgoers rushed toward the stage.

It's been confirmed at least 300 concertgoers were treated on the scene, and 25 people were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Eight people died that night.

Two others later died from injuries sustained during Scott's show.

Multiple agencies, including Houston Police Department and the FBI, have opened investigations into the cause of the crowd surge and whether it could have been prevented.

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