New report releases more details about shooting inquest

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FARMINGTON — New details from the Aztec High School shooting investigation were revealed in a lengthy incident report issued by the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and obtained by The Farmington Daily Times.

The report documents first-hand accounts of responding officers controlling the scene and evacuating students and staff. It describes how the shooter came to purchase the handgun he used in the killings. It notes that the shooter's father once told him in jest not to conduct a school shooting with the gun.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Aztec High School shooting

The report also documents that the shooter, who had dropped out of high school and in recent years built a racist online persona, once allegedly threatened to shoot a neighbor. 

Despite that threat, which brought police to the door, and an FBI investigation that brought authorities into the family's living room in March of 2016, 21-year-old Aztec resident William Atchison went virtually under the radar as authorities investigated a sibling instead.

The shooter walked to the Aztec high campus on the morning of Dec. 7, 2017, entered a building and shot and killed 17-year-old Casey J. Marquez and Francisco "Paco" Fernandez. 

The shooter then shot into some classrooms before dying due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, leaving authorities puzzled as to his motive.

Sheriff's Office finishes investigation

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office investigation into the case is complete, and investigators are awaiting reports from the New Mexico State Police crime scene division, according to Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln of the Sheriff's Office.

The length of the investigation was impacted by two factors.

The fact that the shooter took his own life affected parts of the case, as there was no one to prosecute.

'OUR NEW NORMAL': Aztec grappling with high school shooting aftermath

Instead, a lot of time was spent determining if the shooter had any accomplices. Investigators also searched for his true motive, Lincoln said.

There were no accomplices found, and no true motive for the incident. Investigators determined that the killer may have selected the anniversary of the 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor as the day he would carry out his plans.

Although there were no accomplices found, the shooter had a lot of interaction on online community comment boards where he sought out people who were obsessed with school shootings and tolerant or supportive of his racist posts.

The shooter was in contact with and talked with 18-year-old Ali David Sonboly, who shot and killed nine people in a Munich, Germany, mall on July 22, 2016.

The large-scale school shooting investigation involved hundreds of people from local, state and federal agencies.

Lincoln said the actions of the Aztec police officers who were first on scene and the actions of the teachers following policies and locking doors prevented additional deaths

Interviews with the father

Wayne Atchison would stand outside his 21-year-old son's bedroom and listen to the troubling sounds coming from a computer.

Through the bedroom door, Wayne told an investigator on Dec. 7 that he'd heard the sounds of the "neo-Nazi" or "propaganda" websites his son would visit. He heard discussions of topics he did not like and believed were a bad influence on his son. 

The shooter's father was interviewed by authorities at his residence shortly after his son was identified as the shooter, according to the incident report.

The father told police he believed his son was the person who conducted the shooting, stating he put "feelers" out into the community. He was surprised by the news of his son's death, adding he thought William was in jail.

The father did not provide any details on what he actually heard from the "neo-Nazi" or "propaganda" websites, but stated "he doesn't like what they are saying."

The shooter's autopsy report noted faint ink markings of "SS," "build wall," and a swastika symbol were found on his left leg.  

The father told investigators about an online video game his son liked to play in which players established a "timeframe" of a shooting by building versions of schools or malls to conduct practice runs. 

The father also noted that his son had purchased a gun, and said he warned his son not to point it at anyone. The killer and his brother took the handgun and a recently purchased .22 caliber rifle out shooting about two weeks before the killings, the report said.

"He said he also told William to never...do a school shooting," Aztec Police Capt. Troy Morris wrote in his report."I questioned why he should feel the need to say that to William, and he said, "I said it kinda clowning around I thought."

The shooter had a history of speaking with school counselors pretty much his whole life, and was seeing a counselor in Farmington until the counselor retired, his father told investigators. He made two trips to a new counselor, then stopped going and dropped out of school, his father said. The father said his son had spoken about being "picked on" while walking between classes at Aztec High.

An employee who worked with the killer at the gas station at North Light Plant Road and New Mexico Highway 516 said  "everybody bullied" the shooter, according to the report.

The employee claimed she was told he was once stabbed in the chest during a welding class.

Reported police incidents

A neighbor interviewed said she would not let her sons play with William, who she described as someone who spent a lot of time inside and alone at the residence.

She also recalled two incidents involving him where she called Aztec police.

The neighbor claimed he was firing his Airsoft gun at her dogs. She also claimed William threatened to shoot her husband during an argument.

The argument was over some "weed" found near their properties.

Earlier FBI investigation

During his interview, the shooter's father recognized one of the FBI agents who spoke to William in March 2016 regarding some posts to online forums, including a post about shooting up his former school.

Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal told attendees during a Coffee with the Chief event in April the FBI told Aztec police that they were investigating William's brother.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher declined to comment, stating the investigation is ongoing.

The police report mentioned a yellow piece of paper which Capt. Morris of the Aztec police retrieved while speaking to a detective for the sheriff's office after the possible shooter was identified.

MORE: New Mexico legislators discuss school security at Aztec High School

The paper had notes that Capt. Morris made from his conversation with the FBI, according to Lt. Joseph Gonzales of the Aztec Police Department.

It read "threat terrorism Boston office" and also stated "online gaming platform reported talk of school shooting" and listed a March 6 date. Information regarding the notes is heavily redacted in the police report.

The other only other information listed is "Aztec high school" and info regarding a position at a regional oil company.

FBI agent Terry Wade said during a Dec. 8 press conference the FBI ended its 2016 investigation after it did not find evidence of a crime. At the time the shooter did not own a firearm.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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