On Sunday evening, thousands of fans poured into Rochester, New York’s Main Street Armory for a concert set to be headlined by GloRilla, one of hip-hop’s fastest rising stars. Among them were 28-year-old Tamira De Jesus, who had heard mixed reviews about the venue in the past – claims that suggested that it should have been shut down long ago and more sinister accusations that it was a “death trap”. But once inside the venue, her experience at first clashed against rumors that had often popped up throughout the live music community in the area.
It was only after the show had ended around 11 pm and the buzzing audience made its way to the exits that De Jesus understood why the venue had its reputation. “I didn’t see anything but the whole crowd pushing everyone towards the bathroom like a wave pool,” she tells Rolling Stone, recalling that multiple doors were blocked off by security and police following a rumored physical altercation outside the venue. “People [began] to fall over and get stepped on.” With even fewer points of exit, the crowd erupted into hysteria.
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On Monday, the Rochester Police Department reported that the crowd surge was believed to be the result of unfounded claims of gunfire inside the venue. The chaotic incident left two women – Brandy Miller, 35, and Rhondesia Belton, 33 – dead, another hospitalized in critical condition, and seven additional people injured. Police Chief David M. Smith shared that no evidence was found to support the shooting claims. An investigation into several possible causes, including “possibly crowd size, shots fired, pepper spray and other contributing factors,” remains ongoing.
“I was literally being suffocated while trying to help people on the ground stand up. I was terrified and all I could think is that they gotta let the crowd out into the street because they weren’t going to stop,” De Jesus says. “I literally screamed to tell people to stop pushing and to help the people on the ground stand up. I heard a man literally say, ‘Fuck them, step on them.’ It was the most inhumane thing I have seen in my whole life and I am still having anxiety.”
Despite eight Rochester police officers being stationed directly outside, “the venue was not prepared to handle an incident of this magnitude at all,” De Jesus says. The panic of the crowd paired with the lack of direction and communication from venue employees proved to be a dangerous combination as thousands of bodies pressed against each other in search of an exit.
Online reviews for the venue often specifically call out a deficiency in proper security practices both at the door and inside the venue. “The staff from the Armory was pushing us back into the Armory, but we were yelling that they couldn’t do that because everyone in the back wouldn’t stop pushing,” De Jesus recalls. “They were trying to keep a huge crowd inside somewhere that no one could hear them instead of trying to keep a crowd [out] that is pushing and having no regard or sense of community at all.”
A rep for the venue did not respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment. It’s unclear which of the three security companies the venue uses was employed that night, but reps for the companies — Brown Brothers Security, Blackhawk Training Academy and Enterprise Security Consulting and Training — did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment. After the publication of this story, Blackhawk Training Academy told Rolling Stone they were not involved.
A number of patrons attempted to assist one another, locking arms with others to maintain balance and moving towards safety together. “I couldn’t just step on nobody; I literally saved two people’s lives,” one attendee, Bennie Redfield, wrote on Facebook. “I pulled them up off that ground while trying to control the crowd around me. The one girl gave me the biggest hug ever and thanked me for saving her from the crowd of people stepping on her.”
Still, there was only so much individual people could do while attempting to manage mayhem born from failings in security and management. “There was one girl who was absolutely lifeless. I wasn’t able to help her because she wasn’t moving and I was too scared to touch her,” Redfield wrote, adding: “Last night was traumatizing. I just keep seeing all the people that were trampled.”
Another Facebook user using a pseudonym described being in the middle of the crowd. “I felt all the air leaving my lungs, my whole body hurt. To be screaming for help and have people step on you and climb over you was so fucking scary,” she wrote. “I just kept thinking about my kids and how I didn’t want them to grow up without me.” Among the two deceased victims was a fellow mother, Belton, who is survived by a young son.
De Jesus estimates that she was in the midst of the crush for no longer than 15 minutes, although “it felt like forever.” When she stepped outside, she was washed over with ease, but it was eerie. “The moment of relief was as soon as I hit the stairs and saw people just standing around watching like nothing was happening and like they didn’t see us being pushed back inside of a place with no exit and nowhere to run,” she says .
“This is a tragedy of epic proportions,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said at a news conference on Monday. “It’s something that all of us who love concerts worry about. When you go to a concert you don’t expect to be trampled. Your loved ones expect you to be able to come home and talk about the experience you had at that great concert.”
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