GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of graduates got their diplomas Thursday night at East Kentwood High School amid heightened security.
It came a week after a shooting right after a different graduation ceremony at the high school.
“We are still here,” the principal told the crowd as he began his speech.
Last Thursday, two people were shot in the parking lot near the football stadium, where the graduation ceremony took place for Crossroads Alternative High School.
Authorities say a group of people in a white car pulled up and opened fire on another group. That group returned fire and then took off in a car.
Two bystanders were injured in the exchange of gunfire: a 16-year-old from Texas who sustained a gunshot wound to the wrist and a 40-year-old woman who was shot in the wrist and abdomen.
The sheriff said “many, many, many” shots were fired. Two of eight people involved have been formally charged.
As a result, there were extra security measures in place for Thursday night’s graduation to keep students and families safe.
Francis Torres, a parent of a student who graduated Thursday, told News 8 “it’s unfortunate that it happened here.”
“But I mean, it’s happening everywhere,” Torres said.
An hour before the event began, there was a long line of families going through weapons detectors to enter the stadium.
Deputies said a K-9 deputy was also on hand. No bags were allowed in the stadium. Once people left, they were not allowed to re-enter the stadium.
“Kentwood is a strong community,” Torres added. “So I feel like they’ve taken the extra leap. They’ve taken the extra security seriously.”
Kentwood Public Schools had asked Kent County Sheriff’s deputies to patrol the event, Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young told News 8. She said they were there out of an abundance of caution and to respond quickly if anything happened.
“Two extra sets of eyes and ears to spot anything that might be a problem for the event,” LaJoye-Young said.
The sheriff said there was no specific threat to the event.
“The incident that happened last week with Crossroads Alternative, it appears to be a very specific incident related to individuals who were there,” LaJoye-Young said.
In total, 563 East Kentwood High School seniors walked across the stage, officially becoming graduates. It was an emotional moment for Torres and her daughter, Asia Torres.
“I am very proud of you baby,” Torres told her daughter. “I’m so proud of you. I’m ecstatic for your future. You have a beautiful heart, a beautiful soul. I’m going start crying.”
John Rittersdorf’s daughter, Rachel, also graduated Thursday night.
“I love her,” he said. “Love her to death. Congratulations, Rachel. You’re one of a kind.”
As graduates look toward the future, one student speaker had this message for the class of 2022.
“Make a life, not a living,” she said. “We all deserve to have what we want in life and live a meaningful life.”
The principal called this the most resilient class in school history, saying half of their high school experience came during a pandemic.