Gunman identified in Aztec High School shooting

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference this morning, to provide updated information on the tragic events which unfolded Thursday at Aztec High School, in which a gunman took the lives of two students before taking his own life.

County Sheriff Ken Christesen identified the gunman as 21-year-old William Atchison, a former student of Aztec High and living with his parents in the city of Aztec. Atchison had attended Aztec High School in the past, but was not a graduate.

Christesen said the shooting was planned out by the gunman, who officials said was able to disguise himself as a student to get into the school.

"It's important to understand how focused he was, how deranged he was, in his intent," Christesen said. He described the incident as “an act of cowardice.”

Officials made it clear at the press conference they have no reason to believe the victims were intentionally targeted.

"We just happen to believe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Christesen said.

A thumb drive found on the gunman’s person contained a message which exposed his intent.

On that thumb drive, authorities say they found the following message:

"If things go according to plan, today would be when I die.

I wait until the school buses are detected, then head out on foot disguised as a student.I go somewhere and gear up, then hold a class hostage and go apesh**, then blow my brains out. 

Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks.

I just want out of this sh**.

F*** this state, it really is bad. Think I’m insane? I’m actually more rational, peaceful and less loony than a majority of the citizenry of this entire region.”

This was not the first time authorities had been in contact with Atchison.

In March 2016, Atchison was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding statements he had made in an online gaming forum regarding the purchasing of weapons.

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said the gunman had one pistol and multiple magazines when he entered the school shortly after 8am Thursday morning. The Glock 9mm pistol was legally purchased in November.

According to the timeline provided by Kassetas, Atchison shot the first victim, 18-year-old Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, in a bathroom before shooting 17-year-old Casey Marquez in the hall.

Atchison proceeded down the hallway of the school, firing many rounds before entering a classroom. Students were barricaded inside an adjoining office and were physically unharmed.

As local authorities closed in on the gunman after responding to multiple emergency calls to 911, Atchison took his own life.

Christesen pointed out that the actions of many, including Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal, likely prevented the gunman from doing more harm.

"Being there within a minute," Christesen said of Heal, "deterred (Atchison) from killing anyone else."

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez stated at the press conference that many resources are currently available for those who are grieving.

Those resources are available at


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