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Mother speaks about processing the grief following death

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FARMINGTON — It was important for Jamie Lattin to not be frozen in grief by the death of her daughter, Casey Jordan Marquez, who was killed during the 2017 Aztec High School shootings.

She knew her daughter would want to her keep going as she processed her grief.

"She's not going to let me just curl up in a ball and die with her," Lattin told The Daily Times. "She's not going to let you do that."

Lattin described Marquez as a fighter from the moment she entered the world, eager to graduate high school to pursue teaching cheerleading camps across the Southwest.

As the two-year anniversary of the Dec. 7, 2017 shooting approached, Lattin sat down with The Daily Times to talk about her 17-year-old daughter, who was shot and killed along with Francisco "Paco" Fernandez.

During the interview, Lattin provided The Daily Times multiple statements from her friends and family, reminiscing about their times spent with Marquez.

Marquez's family has filed lawsuits in the wake of her death, seeking damages from Aztec schools and police for their alleged negligence in the shooting.

They also seek damages for alleged sexual abuse and harassment by a former Aztec high teacher.

Snakes, Worms, Turtles

Her mother described the young Marquez as "wild, little, dirty little kid" who was into everything, ending up covered in dirt with her frizzy hair sticking up.

"Snakes, worms, turtles. It didn't matter what it was," Lattin said. "Any kind of stray animal, any kind of animal, Marquez wanted to touch it, feel it, look at it, smell it, all of it."

When Marquez's younger brother Daniel was born, she was eager to help take care of him.

Keana Marquez, one of Marquez's sisters, said Marquez loved to camp outdoors and ride four-wheelers.

"I've seen her catch turtles, lizards, snakes and bugs," Keana said. "She was definitely not afraid of getting her hands dirty"

While she was a good student who her teachers loved, Lattin said her daughter was eager to graduate high school.

More: New Mexico legislators discuss school security at Aztec High School

It was all about gains

Lattin spoke at length about Marquez's fitness routine, her cheerleading experience and her focus on her "gains" and being "ripped" after seeing one of her sisters compete in weightlifting shows.

Marquez at one point befriended a guy a couple of years older than her and helped him develop a workout regime to lose some weight and get in shape.

"He still uses her workout regimen," Lattin said.

After joining a cheerleading team for a youth football team, Marquez learned she loved it.

Her cheerleading for Aztec High turned into working at the Farmington Gymnastics Academy.

She adored working with the little children in the Tiny Tumblers and Flip Floppers groups, working almost every day.

Marquez would later be set up for a job with a Bernalillo-based cheer and dance company Spirit Xpress West, eager to work cheer camps after graduation and eventually move to Texas to be closer to her sisters.

"Casey was a strong person, and I (was) always inspired to be as strong as she was mentally," Cheer teammate Kaitlyn Schneider said.

Autopilot

Lattin was at Farmington District Court along Andrea Drive on Dec. 7, 2017, when she got the emergency alert system text message about the shooting.

She drove to the Aztec municipal complex to the meeting point organized for the parents of Aztec High students.

"They wouldn't let you up at the high school at all. You had to go down to Aztec Police Department," Lattin said. "I was calling. The whole time I was calling, calling, calling, calling, calling."

At first, Lattin was told by one of Marquez's friends she had lost her phone that morning.

It was someone from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office who pulled her aside into a courtroom and told her the news.

"It's like that whole day was a blur after that," Lattin said.

She remembers signing a lot of forms for law enforcement to conduct searches of her daughter's belongings and trying to find out if she had a locker at the school or not.

"He just asked all kinds of stupid questions and you just... You're numb so you don't even know how to answer them," Lattin said. "For a long time after that, it's autopilot."

One year anniversary: Aztec High School observes one-year marker of shooting

Bonfires

Lattin was able to channel some of her grief into organizing the Dec. 17, 2017, bonfire.

She wanted to provide something for the students to come together and help process the chaos they faced on the day of the shooting, along with the two funerals of their classmates.

"I accomplished what I had set out to do. Because, not all the kids went to Casey's. Not all of the kids went to Paco's funeral," Lattin said. "But the bonfire, they were all there. All of them. The whole high school was there."

Past coverage: Shooting victims mourned by family members, friends

She hopes the bonfire becomes an annual event, giving the students an opportunity to reflect on the past year and move forward into the new year on a good note.

When asked how she spends her December 7th now, Lattin refers that question to her son.

For Dec. 7, 2018, he purchased a metal sunflower and took to the bench in front of Aztec Feed & Supply on Main Street.

The bench is adorned with a picture of Paco and Marquez.

Scholarships

Looking into the future, Lattin hopes to grow the scholarship program she started in Marquez's honor along with her mother, Wanda Johnston.

AZTECSTRONGSJC was the non-profit organization to help award scholarships to San Juan County students. It has grown to include graduates from Durango, Colorado.

Thirty-five scholarships have been awarded in the last two years. It has grown to include scholarships offered by San Juan College and Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

Lattin enjoys being able to help the students further their education, making it a little easier for them to earn their degrees.

She knows it's something that her daughter would want her to do.

For more information about the AZTECSTRONGSJC, visit www.facebook.com/Aztecstrongsjc.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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