AZTEC, N. M. – A 21-year-old gunman who disguised himself as a student in a New Mexico high school, where he killed two students had attracted the attention of the AMERICAN researchers more than a year ago, authorities said Friday.
William Atchison, a former student at the small town of Aztec high School, had legally purchased a gun at a local store a month ago and the planned attack, authorities said. He left a message on a usb stick found on the body, that detailed his plan to wait until the students got off the buses and made their way to the classroom.
He mixed with the students, then ran into the school with them and went to a second floor bathroom to “gear up.” Atchison’s plan was to shoot a classroom and then committed suicide.
“Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks. I just want this (expletive),” he wrote.
More lives could have been lost was Francisco I. Fernandez not went to the bathroom, authorities said. The shooter shot Fernandez, then walked out into the hallway and encountered the second victim, Casey J. Marquez. He immediately killed her.
Atchison, then walked into the hall, shooting at random before killing himself, authorities said.
“He was determined to create as much carnage as he could,” San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said.
The shooter does not have a criminal record, much less a speeding ticket, officials said. The only contact with the police was what they described as a general message on an online gaming forum in 2016, which he talked about what weapons can be used in a mass shooting.
The FBI said that the posting was flagged and researchers were talking with the gunman at his home in Aztec, where he lived with his parents. At the time, that he was not in possession of weapons, other than a airsoft pellet gun and said he had no plans for an attack, and just liked to troll sites online.
The shooting has rocked the Aztecs, a community of about 6500 near the Colorado border. Hundreds gathered for the prayer services and candlelight vigils and more meetings are scheduled in the weekend, as the inhabitants search for answers.
In a bright spot, authorities said heroes at the school helped save lives.
A substitute teacher heard the gunshots, but had no key for the door to the computer lab. So she took students in an office or storage room and the door barricaded with a couch.
Atchison came to the room and yelled that he knew she was in and fired several pictures in the room, authorities said.
A custodian also heard the gunshots and yelled for teachers to lock their doors.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said the two victims were not specific targets.
Marquez was a cheerleader and was going to perform in the upcoming Orange Bowl. Her classmates said she came across as a student leader.
Bryn Divine, a senior at Aztec high School, remembered the victim is a vibrant and friendly student who often won dance competitions at school events.
“She burns almost every room we were all in,” Divine said. “She was such a fun person to be around.”
Fernandez was known for his interest in computers and his speed on the keyboard. His family said he had a bright future ahead of him.
Gov. Susana Martinez said she has spoken with the teens’ families and talked about what great children they were. Both of them also had jobs.
Martinez said the families are broken, but its pull together.
“I don’t think anyone ever gets over this,” she said.
Investigators are still combing over evidence in the school and with Friday, in an attempt to determine how many shots were fired. The shooter had several magazines and reloaded multiple times, Kassetas said.
In Atchison, the house, the researchers found a torn note in a trash can in his room that listed what they thought the timeline for Thursday’s shoot. The last words written on the note read “to die”.
Authorities do not believe that someone else knew about Atchison intentions, but said they are still investigating.
Associated Press writers Mary Hudetz and Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque.