Hundreds of people who came to watch their loved ones graduate from Coppin State University were turned away Saturday after the venue filled to capacity, and the staff suspected counterfeit tickets were to blame.
Clara Phillips came to Baltimore from Houston to watch her son, Stephen Calvit, walk across the stage to accept his master's degree. When she got inside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, she said staff closed the doors to the auditorium and things began to get rowdy. The scene became chaotic as people tried to push through, several witnesses said, with elderly people and children in danger of being shoved by the crowd. Police were summoned. Phillips, 58, said she left in a hurry.
Visibly upset, Phillips waited outside the Meyerhoff as the ceremony went on inside. She said she made special arrangements to get off work to attend the commencement ceremony.
"They're going to ask, how was the graduation?" Phillips said of her coworkers. "I'm going back to Texas to tell them I missed it."
A man who said he worked for the Meyerhoff but declined to give his name said the venue was filled to capacity about 20 minutes before the 9 a.m. ceremony. He estimated that 300 people were turned away and that officials suspect tickets were counterfeited. The fire code allows 2,440 people inside the hall, though staff let some people watch the ceremony on a television in the lobby. The Meyerhoff employee apologized to some who were standing outside the Meyerhoff's locked doors.
"It was a safety issue," he said of the decision to turn people away.
The tickets were all general admission and were not scanned, said the Meyerhoff employee and those who were turned away.
"Today, Coppin State graduated one of the largest classes in its 114-year history," Coppin spokeswoman Tiffany R. Jones said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that guests of graduates who arrived more than an hour into the ceremony, were not able to gain entry, as we were at capacity. Coppin State and the Meyerhoff are investigating the possibility of counterfeit tickets."
Jimmy Cook, a Coppin alumnus who came to watch his stepson graduate, said the situation was "unbelievable."
"I'm very upset," said Cook, 61, of Baltimore. "Graduation is a one-in-a-lifetime moment, and to not be able to share that is very disappointing."
"It really doesn't make any sense," said Curtis Brunson, who dressed up in a suit and brought flowers to give to his graduating wife, Sallah. "A lot of people supported their loved ones so they could get here — this is the payoff. To not be able to see them get their diploma is a crying shame."