Close Calls: What North Texans Saw As SXSW Tragedy Developed
Bedford teacher Jesse Hidalgo was in line outside the Mohawk this morning when a car plowed through the crowd he was standing in. Meanwhile, D Magazine photographer Andi Harman was inside the venue - just barely - when the incident changed SXSW history.
Hildalgo is on spring break from his teaching job in Arlington. He'd just arrived at SXSW in time to see a showcase at the W Hotel -- Isaiah Rashad with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. Riding the energy of Rashad's set, Hidalgo headed to the Mohawk and waited in line with some new friends.
There was a big push toward the door. Hidalgo heard a security guard shout to a crowd of people in the street: Back up, and get on the sidewalk.
“And then next thing you know you hear you this this huge like horrific 'thump,'" he says. “I was actually looking to my left. When I heard the sound I looked to my right and there was a bunch of people flying up in the air.”
Hildalgo saw people strewn all over the street, some of them bleeding. He and his friends were near a female who’d been riding a moped - the Austin woman who died at the scene. Police still haven't released her name. Dutch musician and MassiveMusic agency employee Steven Craenmehr was confirmed dead later.
If it hadn’t been for the young, black security guard in front of the Mohawk – Hidalgo didn’t catch his name – many more people would have been hurt or killed, he says.
Harman, a photographer for D Magazine, has someone to thank as well. She made it inside the venue at about 12:20 am after an employee returned a favor and ushered her in ahead of the line. Relieved, she put her earplugs in and moved close to see the band X.
“I got a text at 12:39 saying that there’s been an accident outside and there were bodies everywhere. And there was a little exchange, because I had just pushed my way to the front of the stage," she says. "I wasn’t sure – when somebody sends you something like that, you want to assume that they’re just pulling a prank on you or something or that it’s not true, and my mind wasn’t letting me process that.”
Harman kept watching for a while, enjoying the set. She eventually gave up her spot and went to the balcony. That’s when she saw the helicopter, and the emergency vehicles at 10th and Red River where paramedics were helping the injured onto stretchers.
Harman took out her camera– reluctantly, at first, but people around her were already aiming their smartphones. No one knew yet how many had been hurt. (Twenty-three were hospitalized or treated at the scene, according to the AP as of Thursday evening.)
X had continued to play. John Doe paused at the end of the band’s set with a vague farewell. Tyler the Creator was originally slated to perform last.
“The singer [Doe] told the audience, there’s been an accident outside. We love you. Be safe if you decide to leave, you’re welcome to stay. But if you do leave just exit slowly, and be respectful. So he didn’t really elaborate about what had happened – there were a lot of people who still had no clue inside the venue,” Harman says.
"After he made the announcement their set was over, he got off the stage. Slowly Mohawk staff members said, close your tabs, we need to evacuate this building, the show’s over.”
She and D music editor Christopher Mosley, who helped break the news as it came on Twitter, walked to the corner of Red River and 8th to meet up with friends. They quickly realized few people outside of the immediate vicinity knew what was going on.
“I, at that point, wanted to go home. But I didn’t drive myself into the area and it was then a long and stressful walk so I decided to stay.”
Harman will continue to cover the festival through its end on Sunday. The friends she’s staying with asked this morning whether the incident will change the week for her. After being so close, she has mixed feelings.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Well, there will be people out drunk driving again tonight, and this is just, a freak accident that is unfortunately something that happens all the time.' But at the same time, here I am, I’m still sitting on the couch and like dreading leaving, so.”
At 23, Harman is young talent among her peers in local media. It’s her second time to cover SXSW. When you look at her photos of artists, musicians and fans, it’s like seeing things new. The portraits are full of vibrant, reckless energy. She rescues intimate moments at even big-ticket events, saturated by branding.
The photos from the field this morning are not the ones she came to take.
“It’s one of the highlights of my year, and it sucks that it has this skid mark on it now,” Harman says. “It’s kind of been tainted a little bit.”
We're updating our live blog with the latest from Austin on the incident and the victims.