Edgar Acosta recognized the white sneaker first.
Then he saw the photo of his son Axel’s lifeless face circulating on social media Saturday night. For a fleeting moment, he thought he might be asleep.
“I told myself, he must be sleeping, maybe at the hospital,” he said. But hope faded quickly. “I wished to God I was wrong, but I knew it was him,” he said. “I knew he was dead.”
Axel Acosta was one of the eight people killed at Friday’s Astroworld music festival in Houston during a performance by rapper Travis Scott. Acosta was killed in a crowd surge that resulted in at least 25 hospitalizations and scores of other injuries. Fifty thousand people attended the festival’s first day.
A spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said Tuesday that it had not yet determined the cause and manner of death for the victims and that it could take examiners “several weeks” to reach any conclusions.
But a lawyer filing a suit on behalf of Acosta’s family alleged that Acosta died from asphyxiation after he was pushed forward by a rowdy crowd that charged the stage. “The air was literally squeezed out of him,” Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the Acosta family, said Monday.
Buzbee declined to share more details about the lawsuit, including information about the plaintiffs, but said in an email to The Washington Post on Tuesday that they learned about the circumstances surrounding Acosta’s death after reviewing several videos posted on the Internet and from a video recovered from his cellphone, which was obtained via lost-and-found.
At a news conference, Buzbee announced that he will be filing a lawsuit on behalf of 35 plaintiffs against the organizers and promoters of the event at NRG Park.
Buzbee said his suit will allege that those involved in the “poorly planned” event, including national promoter Live Nation and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., the legal owners of the premises, lacked enough security and medical personnel to adequately respond to an emergency.
“He died on the muddy ground of the concert he attended for fun,” Buzbee said, adding that once Acosta collapsed, he believed, other concertgoers tried to escape their own suffocation and “trampled over his body like a piece of trash.”
Buzbee said the plaintiffs will also sue Scott, accusing him of encouraging unruly conduct and inciting the “utter chaos.”
Scott, Live Nation and the HCSCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Edgar Acosta said in the news conference Monday that he was “devastated” by his son’s death, adding that he hoped the lawsuit would change how these events are organized.
“This time it’s me who lost his son,” he said. “But tomorrow it could be you.”
Axel Acosta was born in Stockton, Calif., and raised in Yakima, Wash. He attended Western Washington University, where he was studying engineering and computer science.
He couldn’t wait to graduate next year and travel. “He wanted to go everywhere,” his aunt Cynthia Acosta said an interview Sunday.
But he dreamed of visiting Mexico City, where his grandparents were from, to eat his favorite dishes of tamales and mole.
About a week before the Astroworld Festival, Axel Acosta celebrated his 21st birthday. There was carrot cake, his favorite.
“He was a loving, tender person and we will miss him forever,” his aunt said.
Acosta’s father described him as a shy and studious young man who was proud of his Mexican roots.
“Every father thinks their son is perfect. I was no exception to that,” he said in an interview Sunday.
Like thousands of attendees at the Astroworld Festival, Acosta had been looking forward to the thrill of live music and crowds after 20 months of lockdown, his father said.
But as news emerged late Friday of hundreds of people injured, some being carried out in ambulances, Edgar Acosta began to worry.
On Saturday morning, Axel Acosta’s roommate at the hotel where he’d been staying told his father that he hadn’t come home that night.
Edgar Acosta began to panic. He started making calls: To the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to report that his son was missing. To his son’s cellphone. To every hospital in Houston.
“I knew something was wrong, otherwise he would have called,” he said.
Later that day, Harris County officials said eight people had died, with the victims ages 14 to 27.
By Saturday night, photos of Axel Acosta’s face and sneaker were released by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences to the media as officials asked for the public’s help to identify him.
Edgar Acosta saw the images on social media and said he knew immediately it was his son. He contacted authorities with knowledge only a parent can have: birthmarks, a dislocated knee, the shape of his left ear.
“As a father, no matter how beaten or disfigured your son is, you know your own son,” Acosta said. “I knew him when he was alive, and I know him now that he is dead.”
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The Washington Post’s Maria Luisa Paul contributed to this report.