Remembering the three women who died after concert stampede at the Armory
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – During a vigil at the Rochester Main Street Armory a week after the concert stampede that killed three women, the steps were decorated with balloons and candles in memory of the victims.
Women died of injuries they suffered while being trampled as people rushed to evacuate the venue on Sunday, March 5. Artist GloRilla had finished performing when people thought they heard gunshots. Although police didn’t find any evidence of gunshots, the sound triggered panic and people rushed for the main door around 11 p.m. The Armory remains closed as the City of Rochester investigates the incident.
The victims of the stampede are remembered as loving family members and dedicated employees. Here’s more about the victims:
Aisha Stephens, 35 of Syracuse
Rochester Police said Aisha Stephens, 35 of Syracuse, died on Wednesday night following days of being hospitalized after she was trampled.
Aisha, who some also knew as Aisha Haskins, went from being a cheerleader as a young girl to coaching her own team in Syracuse. For over ten years, she coached the Kirk Park Colts cheer team at Central New York PopWarner.
The team consists of girls from sixth to eighth grade. In 2018, her team went to the National Championships at Disney World in Florida.
“I called one of my friends last night who just moved to Georgia and her daughter was on the Kirk Pop team and she just immediately cried,” said CNY Pop Warner President Susan Brawdy. “The kids just loved her. She was like a mom to all of them and a friend. She was a breath of fresh air for everything, a complete angel. the light of the kid’s eyes.”
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump is filing a lawsuit on behalf of Stephens.
Brandy Miller, 35 of Rochester
Brandy Miller, 35 of Rochester, died on Monday at Strong Hospital. Her family said she was a loving daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a nursing assistant who treated her elderly patients like family.
Doctors and nurses line the hallway at Strong Hospital to honor Brandy as her body was brought to donate her organs. Her sister says her heart, kidneys, and liver were used to save four other lives.
Her boyfriend said she had been looking forward to seeing the GloRilla concert for weeks. “She was preparing to go to this show for a while,” her boyfriend, Eric Smith, said. “She ordered a bunch of clothes, a bunch of outfits, a bunch of shoes.”
On March 5, Brandy hit the Main Street Armory with her friends. She was near the front of the stage at the end of the show when the crowd surged and she later died of her injuries.
“She would give you anything she had, ya know?” James Green, Brandy’s father, said.
It was hours before her family knew that Brandy had been critically injured because, during the stampede, she was separated from her friends and lost her cell phone and identification.
“She was murdered, she was stepped on, trampled, and for a person that works so hard to go out to have some fun after she worked hard, there shouldn’t be anything wrong if you want to go out and have fun,” Green said.
“She was basically a Jane Doe, left on the ground, left in the hospital alone,” her sister, Michelle Miller, said.
Doctors told Brandy’s family that she was likely on the ground for 25-35 minutes before paramedics could get inside the Armory to try to help her.
“How are you going to try to let 5,000 people out one door? She didn’t stand a chance once she fell down and it’s sad. We would think people would try to pick her up and help her, but they didn’t,” said Green.
Brandy’s funeral was held on Tuesday, March 21 at the Salvation Army on West Avenue. Her family has started a GoFundMe with a $10,000 goal to pay the expenses for Brandy’s funeral expenses.
The page reads: “Brandy’s life was one full of love and joy. If you knew her, you knew that her spirit could lift anyone out of a bad mood. She cherished her life and celebrated her loved ones.”
Rhondesia Belton, 33 of Buffalo
Rhondesia Belton, 33 of Buffalo, died at Strong Hospital shortly after the concert. She worked at the city’s Traffic Violations Agency and Buffalo Mayor Bryon Brown expressed his condolences.
“This is another difficult day for our City’s workforce and our entire community,” Brown wrote on Twitter. “I join all of our City employees in mourning the loss of one of our own.”
Rhondesia’s supervisor, Octavio Villegas, spoke about her dedication to the agency on the mayor’s “Talk of the Town” radio program in Buffalo
“She was a Buffalo girl from the East Side, graduated from McKinley High School,” Villegas said. “Went to Canisius, got a degree in accounting, was a great employee at Kaleida Health, where she did digital images and MRIs. Came to City Hall because she wanted to apply her accounting degree, and when she came to our agency, she was a star from day one.”
Belton’s funeral was held on Tuesday, March 16 in Buffalo. People’s Choice Kitchen in Rochester catered for the celebration of life after the funeral for free.
Rhondesia’s mother started a GoFundMe to help Rhondesia’s young son. The description of the fund called Rhondesia a loving mother, a daughter, a friend, and “a friendly face who brightened up a lot of people world.”
City’s investigation into the concert
Rochester Police Chief David Smith and Mayor Malik Evans spoke about the deadly stampede the day after at a press conference, vowing to bring accountability. Smith said that RPD officers, security, and emergency medical services went inside the building to help the three critically injured women and get them into ambulances.
Seven additional victims were dropped off by private vehicle at area hospitals with injuries from being trampled. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening.
People described a terrifying scene as people were running out of the venue. Some people at the scene swarmed a News10NBC photographer in his news car.
Concert attendee Ikea Hayes was outside the Armory on Monday afternoon to look for earrings, a phone, and keys that were lost. Some people have experienced difficulties recovering items that they lost during the crowd surge.
“Me and the girl next to me were climbing on each other trying to get each other up,” she said.
Anthony Rouse, a security guard, was working in the VIP section near the stage when his daughter got trampled near the entrance. His daughter was hospitalized and has been released.
“I feel better that my daughter is in a better situation than some of the other people that got stampeded. I don’t feel better about the situation,” Rouse said.
The Armory is closed until further notice. RPD announced that, when the owner of the Armory, Scott Donaldson, didn’t show up to a scheduled meeting with the police chief and city attorney, the chief denied the Armory’s license renewal.
The city said they first requested a meeting with Donaldson the day after the concert, on Monday, March 6. When Donaldson asked for the meeting to be moved to Wednesday, March 8, the city agreed. But, when Donaldson’s attorney contacted the City on Tuesday, March 7, asking to reschedule it for the second time, the city said no.
The Amory released a statement, through the law office Gallo & Iacovangelo, about the stampede. The statement said that the city’s claims that the owner failed to appear at a meeting are “inaccurate”. Here is the full statement:
“The Main Street Armory, Scott Donaldson, and his team are devastated by the events that occurred on March 5, 2023. Our deepest condolences go out to the families, friends and loved ones of Rhondesia Belton, Brandy Miller and Aisha Stephens. Over the years, the Armory has successfully hosted hundreds of events. The Armory is confident that when the investigation concludes it will be determined that the Armory complied with all applicable codes, regulations, and laws, as it has in the past. The City took unilateral action in denying the Armory’s renewal for an entertainment license and inaccurately stated that Scott Donaldson simply “failed” to appear at a meeting requested by the City to be held on March 8, 2023. Mr. Donaldson’s attorney contacted the City on March 7, 2023, and requested that the meeting be adjourned until later in the week, or early the following week as he was engaged in another legal matter. The City summarily dismissed this reasonable request and decided to deny the renewal of the entertainment license, a license that the Armory possessed for years. Mr. Donaldson, on behalf of the Armory, cooperated fully with the City on the date of the incident, and continues to do so by consenting to the City’s request to inspect the premises which is scheduled to occur on a date chosen by the City. The thought of hosting another concert at the Armory while the families, friends and loved ones of these women grieve remains the furthest thing from Mr. Donaldson’s mind. Again, the Armory and its team’s thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and all members of the community impacted by Sunday’s events.“
Here is the response from the city:
“The City of Rochester requested to hold a meeting with Mr. Donaldson on Monday, which he requested to be rescheduled to Wednesday, and the City accommodated that request. On Tuesday, the City received a call from Mr. Donaldson’s attorney, asking to reschedule to accommodate the attorney’s schedule. The City of Rochester has a responsibility to those who lost their lives or were injured to move forward expeditiously. Given the seriousness and urgency of the matter, the City felt it could not postpone the Wednesday meeting date and time that Mr. Donaldson had previously asked for and agreed to, and is otherwise unable to accommodate additional delays.”
RPD is trying to determine whether the crowd size exceeded the capacity of the Armory and whether the proper safety measures were taken. They’re working with multiple agencies including the city’s Code Enforcement, Law Department, and The New York State Liquor Authority. They’re also interviewing people at the concert and security.
“We are hearing many reports of potential causes, including crowd size, shots fired, pepper spray,” Smith said.
Smith is asking anyone with pictures or videos that could help with the investigation to call 911 or email them to PSI@CityofRochester.gov.
GloRilla, a Grammy-nominated rapper from Memphis, Tweeted a short time after the incident that she’s praying everybody is ok. On Monday night, she Tweeted that she was devastated and heartbroken over the deaths.
The Armory was constructed in 1905 for military units. Over the years, it evolved to host circuses, concerts, and other events. According to its website, the Armory can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees.
A statement from the City of Rochester said the Armory passed its annual fire safety inspection in December 2022.
Mayor Evans said no one should have to go to a concert and fear for their lives. He said organizations with an entertainment license in Rochester must meet certain safety measure requirements.
“If you go to a concert you do not expect to be trampled. Your loved ones expect you to be able to come home and talk about the experience that you had at that great concert,” he said.
The venue had two minor code violations, according to the city. One was for “unapproved activity” relating to someone splitting wood behind the building, which has since stopped. Another was for an “unapproved dwelling unit” but the city wasn’t able to find any proof of that violation.
Eight RPD officers, who the Armory requested and paid for, were stationed outside the building and responded as soon as they heard about the injuries.
There have been other cases of deadly stampedes at concerts, including at a Travis Scott concert in Houston in November 2021 that left ten dead and nearly 2,400 others who needed medical treatment. A crowd safety expert spoke to News10NBC about how to stay safe during a crowd surge.
You can see the full conference about the stampede here: