A dozen people died and hundreds were injured when the Saturday night match-up between two Salvadoran soccer clubs was interrupted by a stampede.
Spectators had flooded into Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, on May 20 to watch Alianza and FAS faceoff in the highly anticipated final leg of the league’s quarterfinals.
Roughly 16 minutes into game time, it became apparent that something had happened and the match was suspended.
Footage shows people being carried down to the pitch and others receiving treatment.
Law enforcement and the attorney general’s office have launched a joint criminal investigation into the incident.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele posted on Twitter, “Whoever the culprits are, they will not go unpunished.”
“We are going to investigate from the ticket sales, the entries into the stadium, but especially the southern zone,” Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, the commissioner of the national civil police, explained to reporters, according to AP News.
The southern zone is where fans reportedly knocked down an entrance gate and triggered a stampede.
“It was an avalanche of fans who overran the gate,” an unnamed first responder with the volunteer group Rescue Commandos said, according to AP News. “Some were still under the metal in the tunnel. Others managed to make it to the stands and then to the field and were smothered.”
As Alianza fan José Ángel Penado recounted, the stadium authorities closed the gate at 7 p.m. despite the game’s scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m.
Ticketholders like Penado grew angry about being “left … outside with our tickets in our hands,” according to AP News.
“We asked them to let us in, but no. So they knocked the gate down,” Penado added.
According to Hectór Rivas, who attended the match with his 14-year-old son Diego Armando, people rushed towards the two small gates busted open.
“I fell and my body from my waist to my feet was crushed,” explained Armando, according to AP News. “Five people pulled me free and saved me by a miracle. Two people in front of me died. I spoke to one and he didn’t move.”
One of the biggest stadiums in the region, Estadio Cuscatlán can hold over 44,000 spectators but severe overcrowding was apparent the night of the stampede, according to The Guardian. Whether tickets were oversold or fraudulent tickets were used is yet to be determined.
While at least 12 people were killed in the chaos of the sudden crowd surge, approximately 500 others were injured. Around 100 injured people required hospitalization, with Health Minister Francisco Alabi reporting that are all now in stable condition, according to The Guardian.
El Salvador is in mourning over the tragedy, with sympathy and support coming from soccer teams and federations both within the country and from abroad.
The U.S. Soccer Federation posted on Twitter, “We stand with our colleagues and friends at the Federación Salvadoreña de Fútbol during this time of mourning and offer our comfort and support to the Salvadoran people.”
As The Dallas Express previously reported, a crowd crush during Halloween festivities in a popular neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea, led to the deaths of 159 people. Investigators placed the blame on the absence of security measures appropriate for the huge number of people passing through the area’s narrow winding streets.