Talon News - Good Local News

OFFICERS SPEAK ABOUT SHOOTING

 

December 29, 2017

Jacque Ritchie

Members of the police agencies met near the school to discuss their plan on the morning of the shooting at Aztec High School. In the background, students are being moved to the gym, preparing for re-unification with parents at McGee Park.

Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal and San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen expressed strong emotions regarding the recent shooting at Aztec High School. "We had a tremendous outpouring of support for the school and the police department," Chief Heal said.

"The community came together more than I've ever seen," Sheriff Christesen stated.

The investigation continues, with the Sheriff's Department as the lead agency, supported by the FBI handling forensics and computer data, and NM State Police responsible for crime scene evidence. "We're very blessed to have the group we have, the resources on the ground when everyone goes home - back to Santa Fe and Albuquerque - we have someone left to take care of business. At some point I'll be able to tell you how many rounds were fired in each classroom, where each round went. We're going to have a lot more information in 3 or 4 weeks," Christesen said. He added, "About 20 or 30 kids still have to be interviewed and we will find out through other investigations who else we need to talk to."

Aztec police Captain Troy Morris and Sergeant Joe Gonzales were on the scene first, followed by Chief Heal and School Safety Officer, Sergeant Heather Knibbs. After being directed to the 900 building, the quickest way to gain entrance in a "lockdown" situation was to shoot through a glass door on the lower floor. These were the only shots fired by law enforcement during the incident, according to the Sheriff. Both Chief Heal and Sheriff Christesen confirmed that the shooter took his own life after he took the lives of two students.

A large number of regional law enforcement personnel, including Bayfield, Durango, La Plata County, Bloomfield, Farmington, Sheriff's Department, NM State Police, NM Game and Fish, and others responded. "I want to emphasize how proud I am of the dedication and hard work of every individual that came to help," Christesen emphasized. He also credited all medical and emergency personnel. Regarding morale and how his department was affected, he said, "What I've seen so far is the training and professionalism from all agencies has brought us closer together. It's been hard. Five of our employees had children going to that school." As responders in the line of duty they had to search for more bad guys and injured students, then clear the classrooms before they could find out about their own child. "They had a job to do and they did it superbly!" he said.

Heal said his department was notified by the FBI in 2016 that they were investigating William Atchison, but that the firearm used in this crime was purchased legally. "He had no record, not even a traffic citation," he said. No motive beyond that stated in a note and the data on his thumbdrive has been determined.

Sheriff Christesen said, "We still have a lot of investigative work to do and being transparent is important to us. We don't know if there are any other suspects but there may be, so I want to keep things kind of tight." His department was not contacted by the FBI back in 2016, but he said, "No matter who was contacted I don't think there's anything anyone could have done to prevent this. You know you have to give the FBI credit for trying but this guy was so secretive; let's just say he didn't want anyone to know, but he was preparing stuff he wanted us to see."

Regarding length of the investigation, the Sheriff said, "We're going to keep working and working - it's only fair to the community and the families that we try to answer all the questions that we can." After seven years as Sheriff, Christesen said, "I'm going to be retiring after this next year ... and I'm ready. The day of the shooting convinced me that I'm happy it's my last year."

Asked about any departmental or procedural changes, Chief Heal said, "We're going to look at the situation, look at how we responded and if any changes need to be made we're certainly going to do that. We're always trying to improve and make sure we're doing things in the best way possible. But I don't foresee anything now; we will review the entire situation and go from there." When asked if he thought more security cameras should be placed in the schools, he said, "I know the schools are going to look at everything they've done; they're going to look at security and I'm sure they're going to visit with us on this. They will make the right decision on this. They will do everything they can to make our kids as safe as possible."

Chief Heal, with 19 years as Aztec's top lawman, sends this message to the community: "Make sure you go home and you love your kiddos, and you give them a hug, and make sure you let them know they are loved, so that hopefully we will never have to go through a situation like this - ever again!"

 

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