Hundreds of Eastlake High School graduation audience members were denied access to DeVore Stadium June 2 when Southwestern College’s stadium reached maximum capacity. All three entrances were closed off after the start of the ceremony, leaving hundreds of parents and guests watching from fence parameters or listening from the parking lot.
Families cheered from the parking lot as their graduate’s names were called, according to campus police.
President Dr. Kindred Murillo initially released a statement that said the San Diego County Fire Marshal shut down the event, but later said it was a miscommunication. Fire Marshal Justin Gipson was not at the event, nor did he make the call to deny families entrance to the stadium.
Murillo said acting campus police chief Davis Nighswonger made the call to close the entrances for safety purposes, including countless people with tickets. Campus police said they saw people enter the stadium, then pass their tickets through the fence to others.
“I support what the chief did as he had to be concerned about the safety of the families and parents,” Murillo said. “We always have to put the physical safety of the people first.”
Nighswonger said Sweetwater High School and Eastlake High School were most likely to reach full capacity, and that campus police had been working with both high schools months prior to prepare for the event. Nearly 700 Eastlake graduates were each given 12 tickets, he said, but could request more. Children were not required to have tickets.
Campus police officers were initially checking bags and cutting individual tickets, but the entrance lines soon became congested with attendees. Nighswonger said with less than an hour before the ceremony began, officers stopped cutting the tickets when attendees entered. This is when guests began to slip tickets through the fencing to others.
“The walkways were becoming so jammed, that it was us who said to close the gates,” he said. “Sweetwater (district officials) knew ahead of time, but neither of us anticipated this problem with the tickets. We issued too many from the get go.”
Solutions for next year’s ceremonies are being discussed, to avoid overcrowding, said Nighswonger. Murillo said she was sorry the fire marshal was initially blamed.
“I called the Fire Marshal last week and apologized on behalf of the college for the mistake,” she said. “It was a mistake.”