Aztec shooting heroes honored by state lawmakers

Legislators say pair's quick response saved lives

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Thomas "Emery" Hill, center left, stands with members of his family and various public officials after he and Kathleen "Katie" Potter were recognized for their response to the Dec. 7 shooting at Aztec High School on Friday at the state Capitol in Santa Fe.
  • Thomas "Emery" Hill was honored for his quick response in prompting a lockdown when shooting began.
  • Katherine "Katie" Potter barricaded herself and 17 students in a computer lab office before the shooter could enter the unlocked room.
  • Victims of the shooting were also honored on the House floor on Friday.

FARMINGTON — A custodian and a substitute teacher at Aztec High School whose actions saved lives during the Dec. 7 school shooting were recognized by the New Mexico Legislature on Friday at the Capitol in Santa Fe.

Thomas “Emery” Hill and Katherine “Katie” Potter were formally recognized in House Memorial 98 and Senate Memorial 84, which were heard on the House and Senate floors on Friday.

The memorials, which were identical, were introduced by representatives Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and Rod Montoya, R-Farmington; and Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, respectively. Both memorials were sponsored by the entire San Juan County legislative delegation. 

The recognition stems from a Dec. 7 school shooting that left two students and the 21-year-old shooter dead.
Hill was recognized for quickly prompting a lockdown and alerting the school administration and staff of an active shooter through the school’s radio system.

Potter was recognized for reacting quickly to the lockdown by gathering herself and 17 students in an office barricaded with a couch. The shooter entered the exterior room and shot at the walls of the office, but no students were injured.

The memorials state that the pair's actions prevented a higher death toll and that both “say they are not heroes, but their actions prove otherwise.”

Katie Potter, second from left, is recognized for her actions during the Aztec High School shooting during an Aztec school board meeting on Dec. 19.

Hill, along with members of his family and several members of the Aztec Municipal School District’s administration and school board, attended Friday’s floor sessions, and was met with at least four standing ovations throughout the day.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was among the legislators who thanked Hill on Friday.

“You’re the exact type of person — the public servant and the hero — that we’re all hoping are looking after our kids when we send them off to school each day,” Egolf said. “On behalf of the whole house, of myself and really of the whole state, we honor you and appreciate (you) more than I can say.”

In an emotional presentation, Montoya thanked Hill for his actions, saying Hill also followed the shooter and chased him “right into the hands of the waiting police.” Montoya also recognized and asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting, Francisco “Paco” Fernandez and Casey Jordan Marquez.

“Those two angels saved many lives by giving theirs,” Montoya said.

Aztec High School custodian and volunteer firefighter Thomas "Emery" Hill, left, is honored with the Medal of Valor by San Juan County fire Chief Craig Daugherty during a school assembly on Jan. 12 at Lillywhite Gym at the school.

Hill and Potter have also been recognized by the Aztec school board and by the school and student body for their response to the shooting. Hill, who has been a volunteer fire fighter for 20 years, was presented with a San Juan County Fire Department Medal of Valor.

Aztec Schools Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said it was “very touching” to recognize not only Hill and Potter, but Fernandez and Marquez, as well.
“(Recognizing the heroes and victims) brought to the forefront how special life is and how we need to remember that, and it put into perspective the importance of every day,” Carpenter said.

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