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Family mourns daughter who died after attending festival

Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, died after being taken from the Sunset Music Festival to a hospital, according to authorities. Her family says Bermudez had never been a drug user.
Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, died after being taken from the Sunset Music Festival to a hospital, according to authorities. Her family says Bermudez had never been a drug user.
Published Jun. 2, 2016

It was the last text Nancy Bermudez would receive from her daughter, Katie, as the young woman got ready for a weekend of fun at the Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium.

"Mom I'm getting dressed now."

Nearly 12 hours later, at 3 a.m. Sunday, Bermudez woke to a call from a social worker telling her she needed to come to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Katie was in trouble.

With her son and niece, Bermudez drove about 76 miles from Kissimmee to find her 21-year-old daughter attached to a network of tubes, unconscious and near death.

She looked at her and said, "Katie you have to fight."

Katie Bermudez died Monday. She had been taken from the concert to the hospital by ambulance. Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne died Sunday under similar circumstances. The medical examiner's office is investigating whether drugs were involved in both deaths.

The two were among 57 people attending the electronic dance music concert who were transported and hospitalized over the weekend — far more than the number recorded during Gasparilla parades that draw as much as 10 times the crowd, city officials said.

That was enough for Mayor Bob Buckhorn to order a report from his staff on what happened at the concert and to declare that he hopes the fifth Sunset Music Festival is the last in Tampa.

"Clearly, that was an event that we as a community really need to reconsider," Buckhorn told reporters Wednesday. "This is not the type of event that Tampa wants to be known for."

• • •

Nancy Bermudez insists her daughter, who attended Valencia College and planned on law school at the University of Florida, never touched drugs. She believes someone must have slipped something into her drink.

"I just want to make sure that justice is served for her."

As doctors sat Katie Bermudez's parents down to tell them their daughter had no brain activity, Nancy Bermudez was still holding out hope her daughter would wake up.

They had to decide whether to turn off the devices that were keeping Katie alive.

Her mother called a priest. Katie was given a final blessing and her family said goodbye.

Her father, Hender Bermudez, couldn't watch doctors turn off life support. He told his wife he wasn't strong enough. For Nancy Bermudez, it was the third family death she witnessed, after her mother and her father.

She whispered in her daughter's ear: "Katie, you need to show me a sign that you're always with me."

She believes her daughter did.

In the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, Nancy Bermudez went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Groggy, she turned on the chandelier.

CRACK.

One of the four bulbs exploded. Three lights remained, one for each remaining member of the family.

"Oh god, Katie," she said.

Falling back asleep, she dreamt of Katie talking to her.

"Mommy it's so beautiful and so peaceful here."

• • •

The Sunset Music Festival has always been held in the north parking lots of Raymond James Stadium. Buckhorn said he hopes the Tampa Sports Authority, which controls the stadium, looks into whether the event is appropriate for the community.

"Ultimately it's the decision of the sports authority," Buckhorn said. "If it were my choice, I would say no."

The Tampa Sports Authority declined to comment on the concert but released a statement saying it is working with the event promoter and local officials to learn more about what happened before presenting the findings to the authority's 12-member board.

"After that review, we will be able to make a more informed decision as to the Festival's future at our facility," the statement said.

The promoters of the concert did not return calls for comment but released a statement saying safety is their "first priority."

"Any loss of life is a tragedy and we extend our deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those affected," the statement said. Because of the ongoing investigation by the medical examiner's office, "Sunset will not issue additional comments at this time."

Electronic dance music, popularly known as EDM, has fallen under sharp scrutiny because of deaths and reports of heavy drug use at concerts, especially cases involving MDMA — known by the street names ecstasy and Molly.

Combine drug use "with the heat in the stadium, it really made for a perfect storm of bad things to happen," Buckhorn said. "These guys were running the wheels off the trucks getting people to St. Joe's with a combination of overdoses and heat exhaustion."

A toxicology report to help determine a cause of death for Bermudez and Haynes is expected to be completed in six to eight weeks.

Friends and relatives of Haynes could not be reached for comment. They mourned his loss on Facebook, posting messages next to a picture of Haynes at the beach holding a young child.

Buckhorn lamented their deaths in drawing a contrast between the Sunset music event, which drew a reported 30,000 people Saturday and Sunday, and the hundreds of thousands who attend Tampa's biggest party, the Gasparilla Festival of Pirates.

"The difference is that with Gasparilla you wake up with a headache," he said. "At the music festival some of them woke up dead."

Times staff writer Zack Sampson contributed to this report. Contact Ariana Figueroa at afigueroa@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3550. Follow @ArianaLFigueroa