A graduation day that did not go as planned

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.”


  1. I feel bad for the Emmanual’s mom and I understand her disappointment… BUT her son is alive and another mom’s son is dead. In light of the young man’s senseless shooting death that caused the lockdown, the family’s complaints about missing a graduation ceremony comes off as rather self-involved. If I were in her shoes, I would offer condolescences to the other mom.

    On a lighter note, bravo to Two Boots Pizza!

  2. They do have that beautiful portrait though. Great photo.

  3. I should have noted that the Avalos family has offered their condolences to the families of the shooting victims: http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2010/06/police-searching-for-gunman-in-echo-park-apartment-building/comment-page-2/#comment-1276

  4. Congratulations to this young gentleman and his family for his graduation and subsequent attendance at an institution of higher education. It is sad that his and his family’s day was marred by these tragic events but it is always great to see success in Echo Park. We as a community are all in support of you.

  5. Basketball Jones

    Come on now Libertad. I’m sure the grieving mother wouldn’t appreciate you shaming another mother on her behalf. As for the Avalos family, from what I read the daughter was only commenting on what was happening to them as it was going on that night. Can you imagine being trapped in your home with your mother during your brother’s high school graduation ceremony? That’s a once in a lifetime event that most parents dream of witnessing. I think my own mother would of ended up getting arrested were she put in that situation. It’s okay to have compassion for more than one broken hearted mother at a time. In honor of the grieving mother how about no more negative comments?

  6. Alejandra Avalos

    I read Libertad’s comment, and I will like to point out that we were never complaining about it! As a matter of fact I even thank the police officers for their great job protecting us and our neighbors. I was just trying to keep the people outside updated of what was going on inside the building. We DID offered condolences to the mother and the family and we also went to the vigil outside the clinic the following friday at 7:30pm. We never ask to have the story of anything like that, The Eastsider was the one who ask us if they could write the story so we agreed. Everyone else thanks for your sympathy and positive comments :]

  7. What a great story. And beautiful portrait! Once again, ELA brings us better reporting/coverage than 99% of the media outlets in L.A. Good work!

  8. @The Eastsider – thank you for clarifying. I stand corrected!

    @Basketball Jones – Well put and well said.

    @Alejandra – Your family has had a bittersweet week – I regret if I added any more stress. Congrats & a great summer to Emmanuel!

    @skeeter – yes, great photo.

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