Aztec thanks school staff, first responders
AZTEC — With a large envelope in her hands, Sandi Harber walked toward the Aztec Police Department today.
Inside the envelope were cards and notes that expressed appreciation to the first responders who reacted quickly to the fatal shooting on Dec. 7 at Aztec High School.
Senior Casey J. Marquez, 17, and junior Francisco "Paco" Fernandez, 17, were shot to death by Aztec resident William Atchison, 21, who later killed himself at the scene.
Harber started collecting cards and notes for emergency personnel and high school staff on Saturday at her business, Urban Rebel Antiques, in Aztec.
"My nature when anything happens is to do something," Harber said in an interview after her delivery to the police station.
The effort produced more than 100 cards and notes from community and area residents.
"We had a lot of people from the area who would come in and say, 'We're all Aztec right now,'" Harber said.
The show of appreciation also hits close to home for Harber, whose husband, Bryan Harber, was a lieutenant of detective reserves for 12 years for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee.
"Sometimes they don't get the recognition that they deserve and they have a really hard job. I wanted to show them that the community does support them," she said.
Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal said he started looking at the messages in his office after returning from a prayer circle at the high school this morning.
"We're very thankful for the support we've had in the community. We want to make sure we're here to support whatever is needed as we go forward," Heal said adding the messages will be shared with officers.
Meanwhile, Harber will continue to collect cards and notes this week at Urban Rebel Antiques, 208 S. Main St., as well as accept messages by email at email@example.com.
She said those sent by email will be printed and delivered alongside cards and notes left at her business.
As for the messages for high school staff, Harber delivered those to Sandra Lanier, owner of Finish Line Graphics in Aztec.
Sandra Lanier's husband, Steve Lanier, is a teacher and coach at the high school and the couple will forward the cards and notes to staff this week.
"I think it's awesome how the entire community has come together and supported each other," Sandra Lanier said. "Even though everybody wasn't directly impacted by it, we're a close-knit community and everybody knows everybody."
She said the school's maintenance department contacted her over the weekend and wanted banners placed at the school.
One of the banners states, "We are Aztec" and "#AztecStrong," and hangs outside on a walkway on campus.
Lanier said the business community continues to offer support, including Lil Aztec Flower Shop and Main Street Spirit.
Lil Aztec Flower Shop owner Susan Aguirre collected more than $900 to help the school cheerleading team, where Marquez served as team captain.
Aguirre said Will and Trini Ballew, both members of the school's Junior ROTC, and their father, Tom Ballew, helped collect donations and make orange and black ribbons.
Main Street Spirit continues to sell T-shirts that depict the school mascot with a tear and the words, "Our heads are down but our hearts are strong."
Owner Cynthia Paschall said proceeds from the T-shirts will go to the Marquez and Fernandez families.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.