Several recognized by school board for actions during Aztec High School shooting

School district employees, local law enforcement officers given special recognition

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
  • Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter thanked dozens of people for their quick responses and support.
  • The school board voted to accept community donations to help fund a new student lounge.

AZTEC — Members of the Aztec school board singled out several people Tuesday at a meeting at Aztec High School for their acts of bravery and selflessness during the recent shooting at the school.

Maintenance employee Thomas "Emery" Hill, center, shakes hands with San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas and San Juan County Chief Executive Officer Kim Carpenter during a school board meeting Tuesday at Aztec High School.

Superintendent Kirk Carpenter presented certificates to more than a dozen district employees, and San Juan County law enforcement and fire personnel while recognizing many more people for their actions during a Dec. 7 shooting at the high school that left two students and the shooter dead.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to say thank you enough,” Carpenter said at the beginning of the meeting. “When I say thank you, I’m not satisfied, and I don’t know that I ever will be. As we recognize people tonight, I hope you understand … whatever role you played, it was not a small role. It played an important role in our kids’ healing or in some cases, that we’ll recognize (at the meeting), it was a role in preventing evil from spreading across our campus.”

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Special recognition went to four district employees and four local law enforcement agents during the meeting, which was rescheduled from Dec. 14 in the aftermath of the shooting.

Ricky Chavez, a maintenance employee, was recognized for his lack of hesitation in escorting to a safe place a student who had been late to class and was unaware of the danger during the shooting.

Thomas “Emery” Hill, a maintenance employee, was recognized for sending out a call for a lockdown almost immediately after the shooting began and for distracting the shooter.

Sgt. Heather Knibbs, a school resource officer with the Aztec Police Department, is recognized during an Aztec Municipal School District board meeting on Tuesday at Aztec High School.

Katie Potter, a former district employee who has worked as a substitute teacher for the past two years, was recognized for her quick thinking in barricading her class in a secure closet during the lockdown, as she did not have keys to lock her classroom door.

Read:Families reunite after Aztec H.S. shooting leaves two students, shooter dead

Chris Shea, the school's dean of students, was recognized for her quick response in instructing students and staff members to remain in lockdown over the school’s intercom system when smoke from the gunfire set off the school’s fire alarm system while the shooter was still active.

The school district also had special recognition for the Aztec Police Department officers who were the first to arrive at the scene — Lt. Joe Gonzales, Chief Mike Heal, School Resource Officer Heather Knibbs and Capt. Troy Morris.

Katie Potter, second from left, is recognized during an Aztec Municipal School District board meeting on Tuesday at Aztec High School.

Carpenter expressed his thanks and appreciation to many school district employees, county employees and members of the Four Corners, state and national community for their response to the shooting, and for continued support in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Those recognized include Department of Health counselors Susan Acosta and Twila Becenti-Fundark, AMSD exceptional programs director Jonathan Acrey, San Juan County CEO Kim Carpenter, San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen, San Juan County Sheriff Capt. Brice Current, San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas, San Juan County Fire Department Chief Craig Daugherty, and members of the district’s administration, curriculum, finance, food services, operations, technology and transportation departments, as well as the school staff throughout the district.

Maintenance employee Ritchie Chavez, left, shakes hands with Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter during a school board meeting on Tuesday at Aztec High School.

Members of the school board also expressed their gratitude during the three-hour meeting, which was held in the high school's multi-purpose room to accommodate the large crowd.

Read:City officials thank first responders, school staff during commission meeting

The school board also approved a motion to accept community donations in cash and services for a new student lounge. The school is repurposing two classrooms most affected by the shooting into an open student lounge. Kirk Carpenter said donations of $5,000 or more require board approval before the funds or services can be accepted.

At the Tuesday meeting, the Talon, Aztec’s weekly newspaper, presented the school board with portraits of Francisco I. “Paco” Fernandez and Casey J. Marquez, who were killed in the shooting, by local artist Austin McGlade. Kirk Carpenter said the school board would present the portraits to the high school, and they likely will be displayed in the new student lounge, which is expected to be finished before the spring semester begins on Jan. 4.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or