UPDATE: 2 Students Killed, Gunman Dead After Shooting at Aztec High School
Students recall hearing the gunfire, initially believing it to be the sounds of students banging on lockers in the hallway.
Three people are dead after a gunman opened fire Thursday morning at Aztec High School shortly after first period began.
The two victims, Casey Jordan-Marquez and Francisco I. Fernandez, were students at the Aztec, N.M., school. Marquez was the cheerleading captain and Fernandez played football.
The gunman, who shot and killed himself after killing the two students, has been identified as 21-year-old William Atchison. He was a former student at the school but did not graduate.
A hard was drive found on Atchison which contained documents detailing his plan to shoot up the school and then commit suicide.
The school was originally placed on lockdown but students and staff were eventually evacuated as police searched room by room.
San Juan County CEO Kim Carpenter says officials were working to clear the buildings before the shooter was reported to be down, according to CNN.
Other schools in the area were placed on lockdown as well. Authorities set up a staging area at nearby McGee Park Fairgrounds in Farmington for parents to pick up their children.
Students Recall Lockdown, Flying Bullets
Sophomore Garrett Parker says he was in his world history class when he heard what sounded like kids banging on lockers.
“But it started getting closer and louder and it was obvious it was gunshots. We could hear gunshots from right outside our door,” recalls Parker. “Thankfully our teacher always locks the door no matter what. So he kept that locked. When they called over the intercom that it was not a drill we went to the corner of the room out of sight from the door and just started hiding.”
Parker says when they exited the classroom, a dead body was lying right outside the door but he did not know who it was.
Student Makenzie Rezac was in class with Parker when they were told the school was on lockdown. Rezac says they thought it was a drill, but when they heard an announcement stating that it was serious and to lock the doors, students ran to the corner of the room and hid, reports AZ Central.
The teacher then evacuated her students, telling everyone to walk in a single-file line and to not look to the right. Rezac says she pulled her hoodie over her eyes.
“We are evacuating, but it’s going to be a while,” she said in a text message to her mother. “We can’t look to the right… I think someone is dead.”
The students walked outside and then to a gymnasium where they were divided into boys and girls and patted down.
Heaven Hughes, a 15-year-old freshman, says she heard loud noises coming from the hallway and then bullets starting flying through the classroom window. One bullet struck a wall just over a student’s head. Her teachers yelled at students to get down and they hid under their desks.
Officers responded to the scene in under a minute and the school had already placed on lockdown when they arrived. They had to shoot through locked doors and climb through windows to enter the school, according to ABC News.
Officers then ran up a flight of stairs where they found the suspected gunman dead with a 9 mm pistol and multiple loaded magazines near his body.
Remembering the Victims
Hundreds gathered at a candlelight vigil Thursday night at Minium Park to remember the two teenagers.
Marquez’s grandparents spoke through sobs at the memorial and thanked crowds for paying tribute despite the cold temperatures.
Fernandez’s father says he is trying to make sense of the tragedy as his son’s Christmas presents wait at home.
One attendee, Dennis Martinez, held a sign demanding teachers be allowed to carry guns.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, called for action to address the epidemic of gun violence in America.
“All of us should feel an urgency to take concrete action to address this disease,” says Heinrich. “I can promise you that I refuse to give in to the feeling of helplessness that too often follows these events. No matter the odds, I will continue to seek common ground with my colleagues in order to keep firearms out of the hands of those who would turn them on our families, friends and neighbors.”
All Aztec schools remain closed today as New Mexico State Police and federal authorities continue their investigation.
Aztec High School is located near the Colorado border and has approximately 1,000 students. Aztec has a small population of about 7,000 residents.
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