Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie


APD Chief Helps Aztec Heal


October 19, 2018

Coffee With the Chief Honored Lt. Joe Gonzales SGT. Heather Nibbs and Captain Troy Morris for bravery

APD Chief Helps Aztec Heal

By Jacque Ritchie, TALON

"What we are trying to do today is get a little closure," Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal told about 20 people who gathered on Tuesday for Coffee with the Chief at city hall. In an effort to foster greater communication between APD and the community Chief Heal hosts monthly get-togethers in the city commission meeting room, inviting citizens to come ask questions, or voice opinions and concerns. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the tragic AHS shooting, Chief Heal used this months meeting to remember and honor the two young victims who died and recognize the bravery of some officers and AHS staff who responded to the call that fateful day.

A little after 8 a.m. on December 7, 2017 a deranged 21-year-old Aztec resident armed with a Glock 19 and hundreds of rounds of 9mm ammo hidden in a backpack, entered Aztec High School posing as a student. The killer gunned down Francisco "Paco" Fernandez 18, and Casey Jordan Marquez 17, before taking his own life.

Chief Heal began the presentation by introducing APD Lt. Joe Gonzales, Sgt. Heather Nibbs and Cpt. Troy Morris. According to reports Gonzales and Morris were the first officers on the scene that morning and arrived in under a minute from the call. Nibbs and Heal arrived in under three minutes and were joined by SJCSD, NMSP and law-enforcement from throughout the region. Leading a round of applause Heal said of Nibbs, Gonzales and Morris, "These guys are my real heroes."

Heal then walked the audience through a power-point presentation that began with photos of Casey and Paco and said with conviction, "We will not let these two die in vain." The presentation detailed the killers movements hours before the attack, during the event itself and the poignant sometimes chaotic after-math. The presentation included rarely seen photos of the suspect caught on survelliance cameras appoaching the school. Other photos were from the actual scene showing how terrified students and teachers barricaded themselves using desks and furniture while still other photos were actually taken from the killer's flash drive that was found on his body. While all the photos were impactful, one particularily powerful photo showed Lt. Gonzales running across the quad directly toward the gun-fire. Chief Heal described the last moments of both the victims lives, suggesting that Paco may have rushed the shooter in the bathroom, thus alerting others of impending danger. The Chief singled out AHS maintenance staff member Emery Hill for risking his life by going above and beyond. Hill alerted school personnel and bravely following the killer on his bloody spree, leading police to the shooters position, "I would have never asked anyone to do what Mr. Hill did. He is a true hero." Chief Heal also took time to recognize substitute teacher Ms. Katy Potter saying although she had no key to lock her classroom, the 40 year career educator kept her composure and hid her students in a small closet adjacent to her classroom. Ms. Potter's quick-thinking definitly saved her students. "She somehow moved a couch in front of the door and barricaded the door. She got the kids down. There were bullets in the wall. Ms. Potter saved the kids in room 902."

Using diagrams Chief Heal was able to describe the trajectory of the 82 shots fired by the killer that day as the killer made his way through the school. Chief Heal meticulously detailed the movements of his officers as they made entrance to the building and began the search for the suspect. Chief Heal yielded the floor to the officers for their thoughts, Lt. Gonzales recalled, "It was very eerie, I had thought about the possiblity of encountering circumstances like this, of course, in my training and I always thought it would be chaotic, with people panicking and what not, but it wasn't like that at all, it was totally quiet except for the fire alarm going beep! beep! That was definitly disorienting."

Officer Nibbs agreed, "It was really eerie. There was absolutely no one around and not a sound except for that fire alarm. It was truly bizarre." Cpt. Morris suggested that the sound of the fire alarm may have been disorienting to the suspect. All the officers agreed that the silence on campus that morning was deafening, likening it to a Sunday afternoon when the school was typically deserted.

Chief Heal agreed, "Those kids were as quiet as a mouse," commending the students, saying thier ability to follow direction and the staff's ability to follow protocol saved lives that day.

The presentation ended with a powerful video tribute to the heroes and survivor's by freelance videographer Paul McPherson, Shutterfreek of Farmington. Through video clips from survivor's first responder's and members of the community the eight minute untitled film explored what it means to be Aztec Strong. By the end of the film it is safe to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. To view one version of the film go to facebook.com/shutterfreek.

Since the tragedy Chief Heal who also serves as the Vice-President of NM Police Chief's Association, has been traveling around the state lobbying to get resolution 2018-37 onto the roundhouse floor in Santa Fe for consideration. The resolution entitled; Concerning Enhancing Safety In Public Schools addresses issues and offers solutions to help effectively deal with violence on campus. Chief Heal asked all those in attendance to rally with him and help him in coming months to get the new legislation on the books.


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