Crime

Reported gunshots at graduation could lead to increased security

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 A shooting was reported at Biloxi High's graduation at Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center on Friday, May 24, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD A shooting was reported at Biloxi High's graduation at Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center on Friday, May 24, 2016.

The director of the Gulf Coast Coliseum & Convention Center said officials there plan to increase security surrounding large events after staff and witnesses reported gunshots following Biloxi High School's graduation Tuesday evening.

Biloxi police officials, who responded to a report of a large fight outside the Coliseum, said Wednesday morning they found no evidence of shots being fired.

However, Coliseum Executive Director Matt McDonnell said security reported shots being fired after a fight broke out. A witness also told the Sun Herald she had seen a gun and heard shots.

Biloxi High School Principal Marcus Boudreaux said he was not aware of any students being involved in the altercation.

The Coliseum has a contract with Swetman Security to help with events such as graduation. Personnel are not armed and have no arresting power.

"We're going to work in better conjunction with the school districts to utilize their resources, identify potential troublemakers. We're going to see where we can better utilize law enforcement that has arrest powers," McDonnell said. "We have graduation here and other events like it. Graduation is a milestone in children's lives. If you come here to cause trouble, there will be consequences."

Biloxi High School had its own security on hand at the graduation. However, by the time the fight and gunshots occurred, most of the students, family and staff had already left the Coliseum, Boudreaux said.

"We had the ceremony, hung around and took pictures afterwards. When I left, the Coliseum was cleared out," he said.

About 40 minutes later Boudreaux said he got a phone call explaining to him a fight had occurred, and that gunshots were possibly fired.

"It looks like it was something that happened with some of the families."

No one has been charged in the incident. There have been no reported injuries.

The fight and apparent gunshots occurred about an hour and a half after the Biloxi High School graduation.

The fight broke out in the west side parking lot.

Biloxi police were called in to assist at 8:20 p.m.

By the time the police arrived, the incident had ended, security told McDonnell.

Melanie Chinn of Biloxi said she saw a man grab a gun from his vehicle and shoot it four times into the air while multiple fights were taking place.

"It was all in front of us as we were trying to drive out of the parking lot," Chinn said. "It was pretty scary to be that close. There were so many people fighting."

She described the gunman as a black male of average height and weight, with short hair, a goatee and mustache. He pulled the gun out of a small black pickup, possibly a Toyota or Nissan, she said.

"This is a shame this happened. It takes away from the fact the graduation was wonderful," Boudreaux said.

Biloxi School District Superintendent Arthur McMillan released a press release Wednesday morning concerning the event. It reads:

"Last night, Biloxi High School seniors and their families celebrated their outstanding accomplishments during a memorable graduation ceremony. The class of 2016 walked across the stage, stepping into the next phase of their lives, and we couldn't be any prouder of them. Unfortunately, nearly 40 minutes after this celebration, in the parking lot of the coliseum, a few individuals decided to let their personal issues mar this event.

"Police are currently investigating to find those responsible and we are cooperating in every way possible. Thankfully, no one was injured, but we are committed to finding out who did this and making sure they are dealt with as severely as possible -- we will not tolerate this type of behavior. And we will not let this isolated event overshadow the celebration that our seniors have worked so hard for and rightly deserve. Congratulations to the Class of 2016!"

Sun Herald reporter Wes Muller contributed to this story.

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