Thousands gathered for a rave in the desert in southern Israel.
As they danced into dawn, Hamas fired rockets across the border from Gaza.
Then the music stopped.
At sunrise on Saturday morning, Hamas gunmen launched hundreds of rockets and breached the border between Gaza and Israel, speeding through farmland towards a psychedelic trance music festival that had continued through the night, into the morning.
Assailants who broke through barricades at the border drove down Route 232, cutting a deadly path through rural kibbutzim communities. They blocked off the road to the festival from the north and the south, before swarming the sprawling site on foot, videos show. Then the militants encircled crowds on three sides like a scythe, gunning them down and forcing them to flee over fields to the east.
The Islamist militant group’s terror attack on the rave was not only highly coordinated, but designed for maximum carnage, the scale and scope of which is only just beginning to come to light now, one week on. Heavily armed gunmen choked off almost all avenues of escape, trapping crowds, while simultaneously targeting shelters where people were hiding, killing them en masse, CNN’s analysis of more than 50 videos and interviews with 13 survivors shows.
Thousands of Israelis and foreign nationals had descended on the Negev desert in southern Israel for the music festival, known as Nova, marking the Jewish holiday Sukkot and touted as an event celebrating “unity and love.”
When the booms of rockets rang out overhead around 6:30 a.m., few noticed over the whomping electronic beats. Others, accustomed to rocket fire from Gaza, thought little of it. But not long after organizers stopped the music, and security ushered people towards the exits, the chaos started.
The split-second decisions revelers made next were ones of life or death.
Many of those who jumped in their cars and drove to nearby bomb shelters were met by militants on the roads, who fired on them at point-blank range and lobbed grenades inside the packed reinforced concrete blocks, according to videos and eyewitness testimony.
Others dispersed into the wilderness, scrambling under cactus scrub and bushes, or covering themselves with sand. They said they were relentlessly hunted for hours, shot at with live gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and watched helplessly as people were killed or dragged away by armed captors. Several festivalgoers taken hostage by Hamas have since appeared in videos in Gaza.
Revelers who managed to escape ran across open farm fields and along dry riverbeds, as militants fired on them, trekking several miles to the safety of towns further from the border. Most eyewitnesses told CNN they hid for six to 10 hours, before they managed to escape – or authorities and emergency services arrived. Others said they survived by pretending to be dead.
Drawing on video analysis, eyewitness testimony, satellite imagery and reporting by teams on the ground, CNN reconstructed the terror attack, which has emerged as one of the deadliest episodes in Hamas’ unprecedented, multi-pronged assault on Israel by land, sea and air.
CNN has identified at least four bomb shelters on Route 232 – two in Re’im, one in Be’eri and one by Alumim – where dozens of people were killed. More than 260 bodies were found at the Nova festival site itself, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka, but based on CNN’s analysis of several focal points of the massacre, the total death toll could be even higher.
Festival site, 6:30 a.m.
Gal Bukshpan, 27, and his friends were unsurprised by the rocket fire being so close to the border and took their time leaving the party for home. They sat near the parking lot smoking cigarettes and watching rockets streak across the early morning sky.
But he soon got a WhatsApp from his girlfriend, asking if he was alright. She shared a photo of Hamas attackers fighting with Israeli police in Sderot, about 14 miles north of the festival site. After some debate, he and his friends decided to sit tight for a little while longer. He said he thinks that decision saved his life.
"From the minute the missiles came in at 6:30 a.m., until around 7:30 a.m., there was a window,” he said. “There was a small window when the fate of you, and your friends who came with you, was decided.”
Bomb shelter in Alumim, 7:10 a.m.
When the party finished, Noam Cohen, a 19-year-old filmmaker, got into his car with some of his friends and drove north. They had only been on the road for about four and a half miles when he said they started to hear the whistle of bullets flying past their windows.
Then, suddenly, a group of militants came into view, dressed in black with green headbands worn by members of Hamas, and started firing on them, he said. "We turned around and after something like 30, 50 meters, 150 meters... we saw a shelter with a police officer outside with his car, with his gun out, saying everyone [get] in,” Cohen told CNN.
Around 30 people who were packed into the small shelter at Alumim kibbutz junction were told to stay down, footage filmed by Cohen shows. Minutes later, there was an enormous explosion, gunfire erupted, and several grenades were tossed through the doorway, killing most inside. “To survive, I had to cover myself with dead bodies, with body parts,” Cohen said.
He filmed several videos of himself in the aftermath, blood covering his face, and showing the horrific scene inside, which he shared with CNN. Metadata from the footage confirmed the time and location.
Bomb shelter in Re’im, 7:39 a.m.
To the south of the festival site, in Re’im, a similar scene was playing out.
Footage from a dashboard camera showed a car traveling north on Route 232. The driver, whose identitfy has not been confirmed, slowed down as they came across an armed man standing in the middle of the highway.
At least 10 gunmen opened fire on the vehicle as it moved up the road, its windshield cracking with each shot. The car crashed into another vehicle, parked outside of a bomb shelter. It's unclear who salvaged the footage from the car, or the status of the individual driving it.
CNN was unable to verify whether there were any festivalgoers inside the shelter, but cars parked in the street around it suggests people likely fled there.
Second shelter in Re’im, 7:55 a.m.
Another dashcam video filmed about half a mile further north, closer to the festival site, showed another attack out of the same playbook.
Militants could be seen screaming at a shirtless man standing outside a shelter, kicking him as he squatted down on the ground. Then, one threw a grenade through the shelter's doorway, and a man rushed out, trying to escape the oncoming explosion. After he left frame, the militants fixed their guns on him and began firing. The fate of both men is unknown.
A CNN team on Monday visited the same shelter. They found its interior splattered with blood.
Strewn on the ground nearby was an unexploded grenade and what looked to be items discarded by the attackers: body armor, prayer beads, a trash bag filled with medical supplies and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the emblem of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
Fields east of festival, 8:17 a.m.
As the militants cut off the road to the north and south, and more festivalgoers began to hear reports of their rampage in surrounding communities, people crammed into cars and tried to flee. But a traffic jam stopped them in their tracks.
Bukshpan and his friends inched forward in their car for about 40 minutes before they started to hear gunfire in the distance. He said they briefly got out to lay on the ground, as the sound of explosions drew closer.
Local police set up a makeshift roadblock on Route 232, and started to direct traffic east, towards open fields, multiple eyewitnesses told CNN. "After 200 to 300 meters, we see we're in a line of like 300 to 400 cars. We see the front of the line starting to U- turn,” he said. “The chaos started at that point.”
Unable to discern from what direction gunmen were approaching, panic started to set in, and people abandoned their cars, sprinting across open farm fields to the east, away from Gaza. In grainy cellphone footage that he shared with CNN, Bukshpan filmed hundreds of people running for their lives. In a separate video of that moment, which went viral, CNN identified him in a white shirt sprinting among the crowd.
Makeshift police blockade on Route 232, 8:30 a.m.
Local police and event security were the only authorities at the festival site, according to videos verified by CNN and eyewitness testimony. Wearing black T-shirts, handguns at the ready, they were completely unprepared to face off against Hamas.
Still, they tried to secure the entrance of the site to the north, blocking the road with an Israeli police car and several other vehicles. Crouching, they returned the militants’ fire, as terrified attendees ran for their lives.
To corroborate the specific time of day the video was filmed, CNN conducted shadow analysis using a tool called SunCalc. Another video filmed at about the same time shows people running from north to south alongside Route 232, possibly having tried to drive away towards Be’eri and been forced to ditch their cars.
Chilling drone footage showing the aftermath of the attack, geolocated by CNN, revealed scores of burned-out and abandoned cars lining the road and festival entrance, while nearby trees were burned to the ground. Satellite imagery obtained by CNN from Planet Labs showed scorched earth in different areas of the festival grounds.
Trees west of festival, 10:09 a.m.
Elizabeth Chimsom Anukwu, 21, and her friends had been waiting in their tents to sober up before driving home to Tel Aviv, when she said they heard a loud explosion. “We heard people screaming, we saw people falling, we were between booms and gunshots, and we were trapped,” she told CNN.
They sprinted for the sparse woods to the west of the festival grounds, trying to hide in the shadow of the tamarisk trees but still almost entirely exposed, videos that Anukwu shared with CNN show. “We waited for rescue teams for six hours, but no one came. I thought I was going to die,” she said.
The footage shows the group lying on the ground as gunfire gets closer. Then a bullet whizzes by. Anukwu said that militants about half-a-mile away spotted the group and turned their weapons on them; they jumped up and ran. She shared a map with CNN showing the 2-mile-long route that they took to escape, traveling along a tree line in a semi-circle before looping back to Route 232. There, she said they saw an Israeli security guard and were taken to safety.
Shelter in Be’eri, around 1:30 p.m.
Lee Sasi, 25, had gone to the Nova festival with some family members to support her cousin who was DJ'ing. When the rocket fire began, they fled to the nearest bomb shelter.
Sasi said there were about 35 to 40 people huddled together. Hamas militants fired weapons and threw grenades into it, killing the vast majority, she said. Among the dead was her uncle.
"We had to bury ourselves under these dead corpses to protect ourselves from these grenades that were hitting, and from the rifles and the RPG (rocket-propelled grenades)," she said, adding that her cousin, who fled to a different shelter, also died there.
Sasi sent three videos that she filmed at the shelter, including one disturbing clip that showed her hiding under bodies. CNN geolocated the structure to the junction outside of Be’eri, the nearest community to the festival ground, which was also attacked by Hamas.
The footage shows Israeli forces arriving at the site apparently seven hours after the attack began. “I’m so grateful to be alive,” Sasi could be heard saying.
For this investigation, CNN examined over 50 videos filmed by festivalgoers and passersby before, during and after the massacre at Nova festival in Re’im, Israel, on October 7, 2023. Most of these were obtained directly from festival survivors, while some were collected from public Telegram groups, such as South First Responders.
A team of journalists with open-source training verified the videos by geolocating them where possible and checking the metadata for timestamps and GPS coordinates. For those without timestamps, we made estimates of the time of day based on the sunlight, using the website SunCalc. CNN built a map based on those verified videos to understand how the attack unfolded, establish the movement of Hamas militants, and the various ways in which civilians were hunted down as they tried to flee.
The team used a variety of mapping services to help locate the videos, including satellite imagery from an official Israeli government site, Planet Labs, Maxar Technologies, Google maps and Google street view. Reporting from CNN’s Nic Robertson and Muhammed Darwish from the site was also used to corroborate locations and events.
CNN interviewed 12 survivors of the festival, identifying themes that matched both the testimonies and video evidence. One key finding was the systematic killing of those sheltering in nearby bomb shelters. The videos revealed multiple incidents of survivors fleeing to bomb shelters and being killed there.