Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
AZTEC — As night fell and the temperature neared 30 degrees, hundreds gathered at Minium Park on Thursday night to remember the lives lost that morning in the shooting at Aztec High School.
“Some of us feel like the life has been sucked out of us; it’s just a hard day,”said Jonathan Dobbs, the minister at Aztec Church of Christ. “But it’s not the end, and Aztec will go on.”
After the vigil, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office publicly identified the victims as Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez.
Through tears, Marquez’s grandparents addressed the crowd and said the teenager would have appreciated all the support.
“She’d love to see everybody here,” the grandfather said. “She loved everybody. If anybody was down, she was always there to cheer them up.”
Fernandez’s family members were at the gathering as well, wearing T-shirts with the boy’s face on them and the words “In loving memory of Paco Fernandez.”
Aztec High School student Chad Hill said he was in the gym when the lockdown began.
“It’s just crazy to think about,” 16-year-old Hill said. “You wake up everyday, not expecting it, and it just happened so quick. Catches you off guard.”
Hill, who has lived in Aztec his entire life, called the outpouring of support expected for the close-knit town.
“I think it’s great how we can come together after something that’s happened like this and how we can also be that community,” he said.
The crowd cheered as Dobbs thanked local law enforcement, school staff and local government officials for their support and response after the shooting.
After dozens of family members and students lit their candles, they raised them in the air, many crying and holding each other. They said prayers and sang songs.
Religious and political leaders, including Gov. Susana Martinez, also addressed the crowd.
The Red Cross provided food and water during the vigil, while a food truck passed out coffee and hot cocoa for free.
The vigil ended with the singing of “Amazing Grace,” which started with just a few voices and grew to include the entire crowd, its verses rising loudly into the cold night.
Kim Dinallo, a retired teacher from Aztec High, called the tragedy “unreal.”
Up until three years ago, Dinallo taught at the school for nine years.
“I loved it,” she said. “This town, their heart, and their sense of loyalty, is bigger than any town I’ve ever known.”
Although the shooter’s motive remains unknown, Dinallo said the tragedy reminds her of something she used to say to students.
“I used to tell my kids, ‘Just smile at somebody,'” she said. “Because that could be the only thing that stops them from doing something horrible that day.”