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Candlelight vigil focuses on healing after Aztec High School shooting
Two students from Aztec High School in Aztec, New Mexico, describe the chaotic scene at the school when a gunman opened fire Thursday morning, December 7, 2017. One student's cousin was killed in the shooting.Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
Victims remembered by family members and friends
AZTEC — The rallying cries of "Aztec Strong" and "We Are Aztec" were echoed during a candlelight vigil tonight following the fatal shooting of two Aztec High School students earlier in the day.
"Today, what we saw was chaos, but tonight, what we have is a launching of healing," said Ken Weisheit, the pastor of Aztec Church of the Nazarene, during the vigil at Minium Park.
The shooting began shortly after school started today. Aztec High School junior Isaiah Mendieta said he heard three series of shots, totaling 14 shots.
"The amazing thing about days like today is it brings us together despite the tragedy," said Jonathan Dobbs, the Aztec Church of Christ pastor who led the vigil, which attracted a crowd of approximately 200 people and lasted nearly an hour.
During the vigil, Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge asked the young people of Aztec, many of whom were at the school when the shooting took place, to raise their candles into the air. The vigil featured speeches, prayers, a candle-lighting ceremony and a singing of "Amazing Grace."
"This shook us to our core, but we have to remember that we as a community can heal," Gov. Susana Martinez said during the vigil.
The grandparents of Casey J. Marquez, who was killed at the school, also addressed the crowd. They described her as a happy girl who loved everyone.
Mendieta was in history class when the shooting occurred.
"We heard two loud bangs," he said.
He said he thought it was someone banging on a locker, then he saw a look in his teacher's eyes that told him something was wrong.
Mendieta said they barricaded the door with desks and used desks to create a bowl to hide inside. They placed a couch above their shelter.
Mendieta, who is a volunteer firefighter, looked into the hallway when the police came. He said he saw a body of one of the victims.
Mendieta's teacher, Fritz Polk, spoke during the vigil in his capacity as the sheriff's office chaplain. He quoted a Bible verse from the Book of Isaiah about rising up on wings like eagles.
"We're Tigers, but it's OK to be eagles right now," he said, referencing the school's mascot.
Serena Arnold, a senior, was in band class rehearsing for a concert that was scheduled for tonight. She heard over the intercom that the school would be going into lockdown. Arnold said the band room door would not lock, so they hid in the teacher's office.
Ramon Lopez wore a shirt remembering his cousin, Francisco I. Fernandez, who was shot and killed.
"I can remember what he wore every day," Lopez said.
He said his cousin, who had started school at Aztec High School this year and previously attended Piedra Vista High School, wore basketball shorts and a hoodie every day. Lopez described Fernandez as an athlete. Fernandez had played football for Piedra Vista High School.
Lopez said he would like his cousin to be remembered for his smile.
"It was beautiful the way he would smile," Lopez said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.