William Atchison has been identified as the gunman who fatally shot two students at Aztec High School in New Mexico. Atchison, 21, committed suicide at the scene.
No other injuries have been reported, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The shooting was first reported about 8:15 a.m. on December 7 at the school in San Juan County in northwest New Mexico near the Four Corners area of the state.
About 900 students attend the school. The other students were evacuated after police searched the building. The victims have been named as Paco Fernandez, a junior, and Casey Jordan-Marquez, a senior. “The families of the victims were notified immediately. They are in our thoughts and prayers,” the New Mexico State Police said. The school will remain closed until repairs can be made.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Atchison Had Detailed Plans to Hold a Class Hostage Before Killing Himself
The San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said in a press conference that investigators recovered a detailed plan on a thumb drive that Atchison was carrying. That document gave details of an elaborate plan that involved Atchison holding a classroom hostage. Atchison planned to commit suicide. The sheriff added that he believed the shooting as a “cowardly act” and that Atchison “was determined to create as much carnage as he could.”
While NMSP Chief of Police. Pete N. Kassetas, said that Atchison was armed with a glock pistol and a 9mm pistol. Both guns were bought legally within the last month. Atchison had brought multiple magazines of ammunition with him. Sheriff Christesen said that Atchison was “determined” to hurt as many students and teachers as possible. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said, “The fact that you carry a gun into a school with multiple magazines and start shooting at people, that to me is pure evil.”
The document that was recovered read:
December 7, 2017
If things go according to plan, today would be when I die.
I wait until the school buses are detected, then head out on foot disguised as a student.
I go somewhere and gear up, then hold a class hostage and go apesh**, then blow my brains out.
Work suck, school sucks, life sucks.
I just want out of this sh**.
F*** this state, it really is bad. Think I’m insane? I’m actually more rational, peaceful and less loony than a majority of the citizenry of this entire region.
2. Atchison Disguised Himself as a Student to Get on Campus
Police initially said he was a student at Aztec High School but that was later proven to not be the case. NMSP Chief of Police Pete N. Kassetas told the media the day after the shooting that Atchison disguised himself as a student to get on campus. Chief Kassetas said that Atchison blended in and mingled with students as they were getting off of school buses. Atchison was previously a student at Aztec High School.
The shooting was first reported about 8:15 a.m., shortly after the start of school, according to police scanner dispatches. Just before 9 a.m., the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook, “Aztec High School is locked down and being evacuated. Please avoid the area.” Authorities said during the December 8 press conference that many of the officers who responded to the school have kids who attend Aztec High School.
Michael Padilla, a former Aztec school board member who was at the scene said the shooting is a tragedy for the small community of about 6,500 people. Padilla called the scene “chaotic” and said there was a massive police response, according to KRQE-TV.
“Tragically the horrors that visited many other communities have come to roost here in Aztec,” Padilla told the news station.
The Navajo Nation reservation is near the high school and a dormitory is located on the school’s campus for Navajo students who attend there.
“I heard gunshots and screaming,” Aztec freshman Caidyn Atwood told the Farmington Daily Times. “They just said, ‘there’s a lockdown, and this is not a drill.’ It was the scariest moment of my life.”
3. Atchison Asked in an Online Forum About Assault Rifles in Relation to Mass Shootings
The FBI investigated Atchison in 2016 based on comments he made in an online gaming forum. FBI Albuquerque Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade said that in March 2016, agents made contact with Atchison. Agent Wade that Atchison was questioned as were members of his family. A family member said that Atchison liked to make “outlandish statements” and that he was “troubled.” The case was reviewed and closed as no crime had been committed.
Agent Wade said that the message asked if anyone knew about using assault rifles in mass shooting situations. Wade says Atchison said he was a troll and “had no plans” to commit an attack. At that point, Atchison did not own any guns.
Atchison lived at home with his parents and worked at a nearby has station.
4. Vigils Were Held Thursday Night
Victim Paco Fernandez was shot while he was going to the bathroom and he encountered Atchison. Chief Kassetas said Fernandez, “He had no chance to survive the encounter. He never exited the bathroom. The suspect did and went into the hallway where he encountered the second victim in the hallway.”
According to Kassetas, Casey Jordan-Marquez was shot dead in one of the school’s hallways. Neither victim was targeted by Atchison, Chief Kassetas said they were just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
A Go Fund Me page has been set up for Fernandez’s family while a similar page has been set up for Marquez’s loved ones on You Caring. On that page, a family friend wrote, ” She was young, vibrant and loved by all. She was the Captain of the AHS Cheerleaders. Any help you can give to assist her mom, Jamie and their family during this time would be greatly appreciated! ”
Governor Martinez met with Jordan-Marquez’s grandmother. The grandmother said she had bought the victim clothes for an upcoming trip to Florida. Jordan-Marquez was scheduled to perform at the Orange Bowl. While Gov Martinez also met with with Fernandez’s family members, including his father and brother. Both victims held down jobs while also attending school. The governor said that the state will pay for Fernandez and Jordan-Marquez’s funerals.
Aztech High School football coach and history teach Matt Steinfeldt said of Fernandez when speaking to the Albuquerque Journal, “Once he put his mind to something he would work extremely hard. And, more than anything, I thought he developed great relationships with people.” While of Jordan-Marquz, Steinfeldt said she was “a warm spirit with a big smile and a dancer at heart.” Steinfeldt added, “Everyone there is hurting right now, trying to find answers to questions that probably don’t have answers.”
A prayer service was held on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Aztec, according to the Farmington Daily Times.
Another vigil is planned for 8 p.m. at the Aztec High School football field.
Friday classes at Aztec High School have been cancelled, according to the Daily Times.
5. Teacher Kathleen Potter Is Being Heralded as a Hero for Keeping Atchison at Bay
Substitute teacher Kathleen Potter barricaded her classroom to keep Atchison at bay. Sheriff Christesen said that Atchison shouted, “I know you’re in there” while firing bullets into the walls.
Governor Martinez said the Aztec community has witnessed a “very heinous and tragic attack … I cannot imagine a greater pain than to lose your child, especially in such a tragic way.” Martinez said there are many questions, but that law enforcement must be allowed to work to get answers.
“We’re here to help you in anyway that we possibly can,” Martinez said at a press conference in Aztec Thursday afternoon. She added there were “several acts of bravery” by teachers, staff and students that “actually saved lives.”
She said the White House called her to offer condolences and federal resources.
“Healing and peace will take time,” Martinez said.
Rep. Steve Pearce said on Twitter, “My prayers are with the families, friends, & loved ones of all students involved in today’s tragic & senseless shooting.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement, “Our hearts break for the victims and their families. We pray for the survivors, and are grateful to the brave first responders for their heroic actions on the scene.”
Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation, said in a statement, “It’s tragic when our children are harmed in violent ways especially on school campuses. We express our condolences to those families who have been harmed. These things are unpredictable. We do all we can to protect our loved ones, our children and family.”