The explosion happened near an entrance to the 21,000-seat arena just minutes after Grande’s concert ended with the song “Dangerous Woman” and the singer left the stage, witnesses said.
British counterterrorism investigators think the possible terrorist attack may have been the work of a suicide bomber who entered a crowded area outside the performance space where attendees were streaming out of the concert, according to U.S. law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation.
They cautioned that all information is preliminary and video from security cameras will allow investigators to reconstruct the deadly events. A law enforcement official and a witness said the explosion happened near an entrance where fans typically pick up tickets.
Law enforcement cordons blocked off the entire area as a swarm of police cars and ambulances moved in and began evacuating bleeding concert patrons.
“This is currently being treated as a terrorist incident until police know otherwise,” Manchester police said in a statement.
Grande was not injured. “Ariana is OK. We are further investigating what happened,” said Joseph Carozza, the artist’s publicist with Republic Records, a division of Universal Music group.
One witness, who had left the arena just after the end of the concert, heard a “huge explosion” near one of the arena’s exits.
“Everyone stopped and all talking stopped,” Charlotte, 18, from Manchester, wrote in a direct message on Twitter. Then she saw people running out of the exits. “Everyone was running and screaming. And people was screaming evacuate.”
Lauren Sanders, 15, was near the stage when she heard an explosion that seemed to come from near the entrance of the theater, where the audience had streamed toward the exits, perhaps two minutes after Grande left the stage.
“Then everyone who was leaving started screaming and running the other way to another exit,” Sanders wrote in a direct message on Twitter. A huge Grande fan, she had come to the concert with her mother. She said there were no metal detectors and that security did not carefully check her mother’s bag.
After the explosion, “I grabbed my mum’s hand and started running, following a lot of others towards an exit,” Sanders said. Outside, police were everywhere, trying to clear the area, she said.
Gary Walker, who is from Leeds, was waiting with his wife for their two daughters to come out of the concert when the explosion happened just yards away. “We heard the last song go, and then suddenly there was a massive flash and then a bang and smoke,” he told BBC 5 live. He felt a pain in his foot and leg.
“I turned around to my wife who was standing at the side of me and she said, ‘I need to lay down.’ ” He said she had a stomach wound and possibly a broken leg. “I’ve got a bit of a hole in my foot where I’ve got a bit of shrapnel,” he said. “I was surprised I got away so lightly.”
Matt Ledger, 19, was with two of his friends at the concert when he heard one of the explosions. “Everyone starting sprinting and grabbing each other,” Ledger said in a phone interview. “When I got outside I saw a few people laying on the grass and their heads were bleeding.”
Ledger, who lives two hours outside of Manchester and came in for the concert, said he ran 10 minutes away to a bar, where he took shelter for two hours.
As in previous incidents in Europe, people took to social media to offer lifts, rooms for the night and tea to those in need using the hashtag #RoomForManchester. Others used the hashtag to send out anguished pleas for information about the missing. “My friend is missing in the concert haven’t heard of him please contact me #Manchester #RoomForManchester worried and sick now,” read one tweet.
“My heart goes out to families who have lost loved ones, my admiration to our brave emergency services,” Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, wrote on Twitter. “A terrible night for our great city.”
Concertgoers said there were many unaccompanied youngsters in the crowd, which contributed to the panic when the explosion happened. “I was trying to offer my support to a number of girls who were there on their own who were hysterical,” the mother of a 13-year-old, who gave her name as Anne-Marie, told BBC 5 live. “They were around my daughter’s age if not younger.”
Some survivors fled to the nearby Steven Charles Snooker Club, where a bartender reported hearing a sound from the arena like “thunder.”
“We’ve got four girls here — trying to get them sorted to get picked up. There was a gentleman on the floor with his leg all bleeding and a woman with blood down one side of her face,” the bartender, who gave his name as Tyler, told the Press Association. “One girl had a panic attack and another had streaming tears, a woman had a heart attack just outside.”
After the explosion, police carried out a controlled explosion of a suspicious item near the arena but later said it was just clothing.
Grande was scheduled for additional performances on her Dangerous Woman Tour on Thursday and Friday at London’s O2 Arena, according to the website of the tour prompter, Live Nation UK.
(Times staff writers Randy Lewis, Todd Martens and Alexandra Zavis contributed to this report.)
©2017 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.