Emmanuel Avalos, left, holding his diploma. Photo by Jesse Saucedo
Claudia Avalos had a simple plan to celebrate her eldest son’s graduation from high school last Thursday. She would drop off Emmanuel early at the site of the Lincoln High commencement ceremony and then return to their Echo Park apartment to pick up the rest of the family. Perhaps they would buy some balloons and then enjoy dinner after the 5 PM ceremony at Cal State L.A. It didn’t turn out that way. “Everything changed,” she said. Instead, Avalos, her daughter and youngest son found themselves locked up in their fourth-floor apartment and unable to leave for several hours as police searched their building for suspects involved in the fatal shooting at a neighboring Echo Park medical marijuana clinic. Outside, her husband, Alejandro, was searched by police and then prevented from entering the apartment building along with other residents. Meanwhile, at Jesse Owens Stadium at Cal State L.A., 18-year-old Emmanuel was left to wonder where his family was until he was able to borrow a friend’s mobile phone and call home. He was told he would receive his diploma without his family’s presence. “I knew it wasn’t their fault,” said Emmanuel. “I just had to keep going.”
Inside their Sunset Boulevard apartment building, Claudia pleaded with police to let her and her daughter, Alejandra, and younger son, Pablo, leave to attend the ceremony. Alejandra used the family computer to post a comment on The Eastsider as they watched the hours pass by:
“I can’t believe what is happening. My mom is going crazy because she is missing out the ceremony and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Finally, after more than three hours, Avalos was allowed to leave the building – but not before she and her children were escorted by police through the parking garage and their vehicle was searched. She picked up her husband, and the family headed off to Cal State L.A. But it was too late. The graduation ceremony had already ended and Emmanuel was waiting at a McDonald’s for his family.
After Emmanuel ate some chicken McNuggets and fries, the family returned to Echo Park but had to wait outside their building until nearly 11 PM before residents were allowed to reenter. “I just wanted to get home,” Emmanuel said. “I wasn’t thinking of celebrating anymore.”
Emmanuel and his family, however, still might be able to hold that graduation meal. In fact, the manager of Two Boots Pizza in Echo Park has offered to treat the family to dinner. “We felt really bad about them missing the graduation,” said manager Sera McGovern.
On Friday, Emmanuel rode his bike to Lincoln Park to play volleyball and soccer with friends, enjoying some free time before beginning summer classes at Cal State Dominguez Hills. “He’s been interested in anthropology since he was 5,” said his mother, expressing pride in her’s son’s accomplishments and graduation. “We are just happy.”