Substitute Teacher, Custodian Praised for Saving Lives in Aztec Shooting

A substitute teacher barricaded herself and 16 students in an office after the custodian yelled to lockdown classrooms as he pursued the active shooter.

Substitute Teacher, Custodian Praised for Saving Lives in Aztec Shooting

The gunman shot at the walls of the barricaded room when he couldn't gain access.

Quick and purposeful responses from local law enforcement officers and staff members at Aztec High School are being credited by New Mexico’s state police for undoubtedly sparing additional lives in Thursday’s devastating shooting.

Two Aztec High School students, Casey Jordan-Marquez and Francisco Fernandez, were shot and killed last Thursday when a former student, 21-year-old William Atchison, opened fire in the New Mexico school.

Amid the tragedy of young lives lost arise stories of heroism by staff members. Both a substitute teacher and a custodian are being recognized for their valiant actions.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen says within the first few minutes of the shooting, custodian Thomas Hill located Atchison. He pursued the active shooter on foot, screaming at teachers along the way to lock their doors.

Kathleen Potter, a 74-year-old substitute teacher, was in the school’s computer lab when she says she heard Hill’s screams.

“I heard popping sounds down the hall, going pop, pop, pop. I looked in the hall and the custodian, Hill, was in the hall and he was saying, who are you? I could tell he was frantic and I knew what was going on,” recalls  Potter.

As a substitute teacher, Potter did not have the key to lock the computer lab classroom. Instead, she and all 16 students went into the classroom’s office, barricaded the door with a couch and laid on the floor, according to Fox News.

Atchison attempted to force his way into the office but the couch kept him from entering. He yelled “I know you’re in there” and began shooting at the wall of the office.

“I heard pop, pop, pop, for probably four or five minutes and he was right outside the door. And I knew that he was shooting everything up,” says Potter.

Police say Atchison then left the classroom after the unsuccessful attempt and shot and killed himself in the hallway.

The group came out of the barricaded room after hearing officers from the Sheriff’s department. No one was injured.

“I told the secretary who called me this morning, I said, if you need somebody Monday, I’ll be there,” says Potter.

Four officers responded to the scene in under a minute and the entire school had already been placed on lockdown by the time they arrived. They shot through a locked window and door to enter the school, according to ABC News.

“I’m sure as we go further into the investigation those heroes will come forward,” says Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal. “I’m proud of the team we have here and the cooperation of the law enforcement.”

About the Author


Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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One response to “Substitute Teacher, Custodian Praised for Saving Lives in Aztec Shooting”

  1. Tony says:

    Had the custodian or substitute teacher ever received Active Shooter Training? When? Who presented it?

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