City officials thank first responders, school staff during commission meeting

City presents police with plaque for actions during shooting

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal listens during a press conference about the Aztec High School shooting on Friday at the San Juan County Sheriff's Office in Aztec.
  • Capt. Troy Morris praised janitor Thomas "Emery" Hill.
  • School district Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said a quick response from Aztec police saved lives.
  • The Aztec mayor said the community owes the school staff, including teachers and the janitor, a debt that "can probably never be repaid."

AZTEC — The City Commission meeting here on Tuesday evening became an opportunity for city officials to thank first responders and school staff members for their quick response during the Aztec High School shooting last week.

Two Aztec High School students were killed during a shooting Thursday at the high school. The shooter took his own life.

The meeting can be viewed on the city's YouTube channel. The city presented a plaque to the Aztec police officers who responded to the shooting. Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter also thanked the officers.

"We lost two students, and that hurts," Carpenter said. "Evil came to our school, and that hurts."

Carpenter said heroic actions by school staff members and police officers saved lives.

He highlighted the four Aztec police officers who first arrived on scene — Lt. Joe Gonzales, Capt. Troy Morris, Chief Mike Heal and School Resource Officer Heather Knibbs.

"That assailant was in that building looking for other victims, but he ran out of time," Carpenter said.

Morris highlighted the actions of janitor Thomas "Emery" Hill, who followed the shooter and helped officers locate him. Morris said the police officers' job is to respond to incidents like the shooting, but the teachers and the janitor are not hired to respond to shootings.

"That janitor, that's not part of his job," Morris said. "He loves those kids so much he risked his life out there to help us."

Morris said it took officers a minute to reach the school. He said a minute is a long time when there is a gun involved.

"It's our job. We're prepared for this," Morris said. "Those people aren't."

Mayor Sally Burbridge also praised the actions of the teachers, janitor and school administration.

"We owe a debt to them that can probably never be repaid," she said.

Commissioner Sherri Sipe had family members at the school at the time of the shooting. She said the shooting directly touched many families in the community.

"We need to remember all the families that are involved," Sipe said. "There was three, three losses that day, and I'm sure all the families are hurting.

Sipe, who grew up in Aztec, said she never thought a school shooting like the one that occurred Thursday could happen in Aztec.

"If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere," she said.

The commission agenda had two action items — a zone change to allow a fourplex to be built on South Main Avenue and a resolution to borrow money from the Joint Utility Fund and use money from the economic development fund to pay for purchasing, upgrading and operating the business incubator, or HUB. Both items were approved unanimously.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at