AZTEC, N.M. (KRQE) – A special tribute at the annual Aztec Sparkles Parade Saturday honored two 17-year-olds killed at the high school two days earlier.
“Our families are hurting and they’re grieving,” Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge said in her opening remarks at the parade. “It’s also the time when we can rise above it and be the strongest- be this ‘Aztec Strong’ and survive and come through this.”
She then led thousands of attendees in three minutes of silence to honor Aztec High School senior Casey Jordan-Marquez and junior Francisco ‘Paco’ Fernandez.
“This was a planned Christmas festival beforehand but to hold it now and give us a chance to come together to love each other, to hug each other, just to let each other know that we’re all there together and to really move forward with that healing process,” Burbridge said.
San Juan County officials said William Atchison, 21, disguised himself as a student around 8 a.m. Thursday to get on campus before shooting Fernandez in a second-floor bathroom, then shooting Marquez in the hallway. They both died from their injuries.
Businesses and locals pitched in to help honor their families ahead of Saturday night’s parade.
The Little Aztec Flower Shop manager, Susan Aguirre, passed out Aztec Tiger orange ribbons to match the ones lining the lamp posts down Main Avenue.
Also, Paige Connelly with the Red Cross painted the “Aztec Pride” slogan on storefront windows to send a message of unity that is bringing the town together.
“I know that something like this is hard in any community, but if any community can recover, it’ll be Aztec,” Connelly said.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a table where people could write messages to the high school students on a poster that will be delivered to the school next week.
“Whether it’s Aztec or what your community is going through, ‘Aztec Strong’ works for everyone,” Mayor Burbridge said.
Aztec Schools Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said no schools in the district will be back open Monday, though it will be a partial day for staff. Tuesday, all schools except Aztec High School will reopen to students and staff. The district did not know when the high school will reopen. Carpenter emphasized counseling is still available at all sites and it is the district’s “top priority to take care of staff and students.”
Some Aztec High School students will be able to grab some of their things from campus Monday.