William Atchison has been identified as the gunman who fatally shot two students at Aztec High School in New Mexico. Atchison, 21, was found dead at the scene.
No other injuries have been reported, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The shooting was first reported about 8:15 a.m. 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 and Casey Jordan-Marquez. “The families of the victims were notified immediately. They are in our thoughts and prayers,” the New Mexico State Police said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Witnesses Described a ‘Chaotic’ Scene With a Massive Police Response
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.”
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 Aztec Police Department and San Juan County Sheriff’s Office along with officers from several departments, including Farmington and Bloomfield, along with the New Mexico State Police responded to the scene. The FBI is assisting in the investigation, which is being led by the state police.
Students were taken to a nearby park where they were reunified with concerned family members who had flocked to the school.
“At this time police believe there are no other credible threats to students,” the state police said on Twitter.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement, “This is a unified investigation, we have the FBI and State Police Crime Scene Teams en route. 1 suspect shooter is deceased and 2 Aztec High School students are deceased. The families of the victims were notified immediately. No other injuries are reported at this time. The school has been evacuated and all students are to be picked up at McGee park at noon. Our priority right now is to reunite students with their families. We will continue to update our page as correct information becomes available.”
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.
“We do have one of our Criminal Investigators over there getting more information and seeing what we can do to help,” Navajo Nation Police Chief Philip Francisco told the Navajo Times.
2. Contrary to Reports Atchison Was Not a Student at the School
Little is known so far about the gunman, who was found dead at the scene. Police initially said he was a student at Aztec High School but that was later proven to not be the case.
It is also not known if the shooter targeted the victims or if they were shot at random.
Many details about the shooting are not yet known.
“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. The Shooting Caused Lock Downs at Schools in Nearby Communities
Several schools near Aztec were locked down as a precaution, including in Farmington and Bloomfield.
“Farmington Municipal Schools has been asked to enter into a preventive lockdown by local law enforcement due to an incident in Aztec NM. We have no reason to think there is any threat in Farmington at this time but we are taking this advance action in order to secure all of our schools. Your students safety is our primary concern. Thank you,” Farmington Municipal Schools said on Facebook.
The district later said, “In collaboration with the Farmington Police Department, Farmington Municipal Schools has lifted the preventative lockdown that was in place due to an incident in Aztec. The safety of students and staff is a priority and we thank you all for your support and understanding in the implementation of our safety procedures. Schools are now returning to their normal schedule.”
The Bloomfield Police Department said on Facebook, “We are aware that there was a shooting at Aztec High School. We do have officers located at all of the schools in Bloomfield and they are all on lock down. Parents are advised to please stay away from all of the schools until further notice. There will be a live update at 9:15am at Bishop’s Square. No Bloomfield students are injured and the lockdowns at Bloomfield Schools are precautionary at this time.
On Twitter, the New Mexico State Police said, “We have received reports that other area schools are concerned about threats. There is NO evidence to support these rumors.”
4. Vigils Were Held Thursday Night
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. Officials Called the Shooting ‘Tragic & Senseless’ & Thanked First Responders for Their ‘Heroic’ Response
Governor Susana 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.”