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2 students, suspect dead following shooting at Aztec High School

David Lynch and J.R. Oppenheim
December 08, 2017 08:37 PM

AZTEC, N.M. – New Mexico State Police say two students are dead following a shooting Thursday morning at Aztec High School in Aztec. The shooter is also dead.

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During a 3 p.m. news conference Thursday afternoon, law enforcement officials said they could not yet release much information regarding the shooting. Officials said police in Aztec responded quickly to the scene sometime after 8 a.m. but officers found the two deceased students along with the remains of the shooter.

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office on Thursday night identified the victims as 17-year-old Casey Jordan Marquez and 18-year-old Francisco Isaiah Fernandez.

"This is a horrific event that occurred within our city and is something we would hope that would never occur," said Mike Heal, the chief of police in Aztec. "Our love, thoughts, prayers, go out to those families that lost two children in our community."

Investigators believe the shooter was a male but they did not release his identity. New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said there were no other injuries reported.

Audio files uploaded to Broadcastify by San Juan County General Dispatch caught the first few minutes of the incident. A law enforcement officer can be heard saying, "I think officers were shooting out the windows to get inside" as alarms are going off in the background. 

"Our friends and neighbors of Aztec have witnessed a very heinous and horrific act," Gov. Susana Martinez said. "There are two children who have been killed, and I cannot imagine a greater pain than to lose your child, particularly in such a senseless way."

State Police officials say there were no credible threats to other nearby schools.

When the shots rang out, students and teachers took shelter under desks or in closets. It took some time to figure out what exactly was happening. One student, freshman Heaven Hughes, didn't think it was real at first.

"All of a sudden I hear gunshots, and you think it's fake, you know," she said. "And I kind of looked back at my teacher. And as soon as you hear the second gunshot, it shoots through my classroom and busts through the window, through the wall. And my teacher tells us to get down, and all the students go to the back of the room And I get under my desk. And I'm just so shocked this is happening."

One student at the high school said everything happened incredibly quickly.

"At one point I heard people," sophomore Damian Greenleaf said. "It sounded like they were running down the hall or they were getting really close to the classroom."

Parents were able to pick up their children at McGee Park between Bloomfield and Farmington. Parents needed to have an ID to pick up their children. Both the girls and boys basketball teams at Aztec High had games scheduled for Thursday; school officials and coaches tell KOB those games will not be played. 

"It's in times like this that you feel violated because of the way schools are set up," said Kirk Carpenter, superintendent at Aztec Municipal Schools. "Those are places where we send our kids to be safe. And they still are safe places. But sometimes evil intrudes on them."

This isn't the first time a shooter opened fire at a New Mexico high school. In 2014, two students were injured in a shooting at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell.

This year, Santa Fe High School had its own close call after police said a teen formatted a detailed plot for a shooting. Police initially apprehended three teens, but charges were dropped against two of them.

Back in Aztec, the American Red Cross of New Mexico provided aid to those impacted by the shooting. They served more than 3,000 meals to students, faculty, staff, first responders and parents. They also provided a family reunification center to help the community.

"Our hearts go out to everyone affected by today's event," spokesperson Doug Keaty said.

The New Mexico Department of Health sent a school health advocate to the operations center to offer services to students and staff.

Second Chance Counseling in Farmington will also be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday for free crisis debriefing. Their address is 216 E. Apache St., and their phone number is (505) 427-1621.

A candlelight vigil was held 6 p.m. at Minium Park to honor the victims. Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge said grief counselors will be in attendance.

"Right now, we need to keep each other in our hearts and thoughts, and take care of each other,” she said.

"What we should do together is unite as a community, share our love and friendship for our neighbors, for the children, the children of Aztec High School as well as the children in the community overall at other schools as well as the community as a whole," Martinez added.

Other elected, law enforcement and education officials have already weighed in on the tragedy.

"Our hearts break for the victims and their families. We pray for the survivors, and are grateful to the brave first responders for their heroic actions on the scene. We have offered Office of the Attorney General resources to support the victims, the Four Corners community, and first responders during this horrific tragedy."

-- Attorney General Hector Balderas

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"My heart breaks for the victims and the families of the tragic shooting at Aztec High School this morning. While the details are still coming in, we grieve for the innocent victims shot in this senseless act of violence.

"This is just the latest example of gun violence that has filled us with anguish and has left another community reeling. Too many lives have been disrupted and too many futures cut short. We must come together to heal, but this tide of violence must not continue."

-- U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.

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"My heart hurts immensely for not only the families of the students who were taken too early from this earth, but for all students and community members affected by yesterday’s senseless and tragic shooting. Many have asked, what can be done to stop situations like this. Now, news reports state the shooter had been previously noticed by the FBI. We need to know what can be done in situations like this, so if it’s not the FBI’s responsibility then some other authority is tasked with trying to help. Many have discussed that mental health is often a factor in these crimes. Let’s put credible and helpful policies in place to deal with this. Therefore, I call on the FBI to release all details on the shooter as soon as possible understanding there is an active investigation going on, so we can examine further what changes need to be made so individuals in need of help can be identified and assisted."

-- U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

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"My thoughts are with the students and faculty at Aztec High School as well as their families, 1st responders, and the broader community. I am monitoring the developments and will provide any assistance I can."

-- U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

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"I am distraught to learn of this tragic shooting at Aztec High School. This is a parent’s biggest nightmare--every child deserves to be safe at school. I want to thank and commend our local law enforcement officers, emergency first responders, teachers and staff who took immediate action to protect and aid those who were hurt. But Aztec now joins a list of communities touched by school shootings and gun violence that is far too long. We should all do what we can to support this great community in the days ahead. But we should also do more than that.

"While at this moment, it is too early for me to know the specific circumstances of this violent act, what is clear is that we have an epidemic of gun violence in this country that has touched far too many of us. All of us should feel an urgency to take concrete action to address this disease. I can promise you that I refuse to give in to the feeling of helplessness that too often follows these events. No matter the odds, I will continue to seek common ground with my colleagues in order to keep firearms out of the hands of those who would turn them on our families, friends and neighbors."

-- U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

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"Words can't express the sadness and shock we all feel at news of another school shooting in our own backyard. My thoughts are with the students and faculty at Aztec High School along with their families, the first responders on the scene, and the community at large. All of New Mexico stands with the Aztec community as they begin to heal.

"All of us are asking why and how this senseless tragedy happened, and we know that answers will emerge over the course of the investigation. But we can't ignore one truth: gun violence is not inevitable. We owe it to our children and our communities to come together and take sensible actions to stop it from happening."

-- Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

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"Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the victims and their families of the senseless crime that took place in Aztec, NM today."

-- U.S. Marshal Conrad Candelaria

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"Every day in New Mexico, and across our country, students come to school with the expectation to learn, and educators come to school with the desire to teach. Parents trust that after they drop off their children at the bus stop or at their school that they are safe until the dismissal bell rings. Educators have students’ learning at the forefront every day, and we deeply believe that schools are the heart of our communities.

"No student, parent, or educator should ever fear that attending school, or visiting a place of learning would result in violence, injury, or death. Yet, our students, educators, and schools are the victims, once again, of senseless acts of violence, this time, and sadly again, in our own backyard.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with every New Mexican touched by this violence, but we also recognize those actions, while genuine, aren’t enough. We must push to enact laws that decrease gun violence in our State and country. We must recognize that when adults fail to act in the best interests of our students – our children – they will inevitably continue to be victims. We are morally obligated to ensure our children do not grow up in a society where school-based gun violence is the new normal in America."

--  Stephanie Ly, American Federation of Teachers New Mexico

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"We grieve with our NEA-New Mexico family for the students, staff and families of Aztec High School. Tragically, once again we are heartbroken to learn about another senseless shooting in our nation's schools. We extend our sympathies to those affected and vow to work together to forge alliances with families and communities to keep our public schools safe, secure, and welcome to everyone."

Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association-New Mexico president

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"Our elected leaders have consistently done nothing to address the gun violence epidemic in this country, and it has hit close to home once again as a result. Today my thoughts are with the victims, the first responders, and their families as they grapple with this evil act."

-- Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico secretary of state

KOB has been told multiple prayer vigils are scheduled for later in the day Thursday. The first one will be at 4 p.m. at St. Joseph's on Mesa Verde, and the second is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Bethel Baptist. 

This is a developing story. Stay with KOB.com for updates.

Credits

David Lynch and J.R. Oppenheim

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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