Efforts of school employees during the shooting recognized

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FARMINGTON — Members of the Aztec Police Department delivered a presentation Tuesday regarding the Dec. 7 Aztec High School shooting, an event they hoped would help bring closure to some community members in the wake of the incident.

The group, led by Chief Mike Heal, gave an hour-long presentation about the shooting during his Chief's Coffee meeting in the commission room at Aztec City Hall. The monthly community event provides citizens with an opportunity to interact with Heal.

About 16 people showed up for the presentation, which covered how law enforcement officials responded to the shooting in which Francisco "Paco" Fernandez and Casey Marquez were killed, and shooter William Atchison shot and killed himself.

"I think it's important so we can all have closure together, and we can all continue to heal together," Heal said before the presentation. "We will continue to move forward and be stronger because of it."

Lt. Joseph Gonzales, Sgt. Heather Knibbs and Capt. Troy Morris also spoke during the presentation. Gonzales and Morris were the first two officers on the scene, followed shortly by Heal and Knibbs.

"The three of them are the heroes of what happened," Heal said about the three officers.

The presentation included a timeline of events from Dec. 7, starting with Atchison leaving work at an Aztec gas station on the morning of the shooting and concluding with the reunification of students with their parents later that day.

The slideshow accompanying Heal's presentation featured images that included screen captures of surveillance video from across Aztec and the high school. It also included graphics from the investigation depicting the trajectory of rounds fired from the shooter's handgun.

Heal took time to recognize the efforts of Katherine “Katie” Potter and Thomas “Emery” Hill. Morris spoke about how Hill was the custodian who followed the shooter around the high school, alerting officers on the scene about his location.

"(Hill) only lost contact with him once because the suspect turned around and saw him there, so he went into a classroom for a short time," Morris said. "That's a true hero right there."

Heal spoke about how Potter didn't have a key to lock the classroom where she was serving as a substitute teacher. Potter barricaded herself and 17 students in an office using a couch.

Gonzales described how, when he arrived at the scene, he expected to find chaos with students running all over. Instead, he found the opposite.

"The biggest thing I remember at that point was it was just very eerie," Gonzales said.

Heal also described Marquez and Francisco as heroes and detailed plans he has been working on to improve school safety.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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