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Shots Reported During Convention Center Event

Times Staff Writer

Reports of gunfire caused hundreds of people at a crowded college expo to flee Saturday from the downtown Los Angeles Convention Center, drawing dozens of squad cars and officers in riot gear who cordoned off the area for several hours, police and witnesses said.

Although police say they eventually concluded that no shots were fired, they turned out in force at the center and called a citywide alert.

Sergio Diaz, a Los Angeles Police Department commander, said the massive response was needed “to protect people” because thousands were at the expo, other convention center events and a Lakers game at the neighboring Staples Center.

Students and parents at the Black College Expo, which an organizer said was attended by 30,000, were shouting and bumping into each other as they flooded onto Figueroa Street, witnesses said.

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Some said they had heard what sounded like gunfire about 4:45 p.m. and started running.

Quinton Rotan, 17, a senior at Lakewood High School, said he heard four or five pops.

“There was bumping, pushing and shoving,” he said.

Theresa Price, founder of the nationwide expo, which awards scholarships to historically black colleges, offered another explanation for the chaos.

“A balloon popped and a speaker blew out,” she said. “And when that started, everybody started running.”

Police said they weren’t sure what happened but found no evidence of gunfire.

In all, several hundred officers in more than 50 squad cars responded.

As police cruisers rolled onto the scene, an “unruly mob” of about 80 people that included alleged gang members threatened street vendors and hurled objects at officers, Diaz said.

Police arrested three youths on suspicion of assaulting officers. The youths had come to hear musicians perform, police said.

As Rotan and two friends watched police in riot gear march down Olympic Boulevard, they wondered aloud whether officers had overreacted.

“All these cops and just a couple of arrests? It’s ridiculous,” said Lakewood High student Natalie Foster, 16.

Price said the incident should not overshadow the expo itself.

“The important thing here is that we awarded 19 scholarships for $26,000,” Price said.


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