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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
AZTEC — More than a year and a half before William Atchison entered Aztec High, bent on “creating as much carnage” as possible, the FBI investigated him for posting a message on an online gaming forum asking where he could get a cheap assault rifle to commit a mass shooting.
Agents tracked him down to his home in Aztec and interviewed him and his family, and he proved to them he didn’t have any guns.
FBI Special Agent Terry Wade said investigators asked Atchison if he had plans to commit a mass shooting and he told them he was just “trolling.”
Without evidence that a crime had been committed, Wade said the FBI closed the investigation.
Then on Thursday, investigators say, Atchison, 21, a former Aztec High School student, entered the school “determined to create as much carnage as he possibly could.”
They said he shot and killed two students, senior Casey J. Marquez and junior Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, at random and fired multiple rounds into classrooms before shooting and killing himself as police arrived.
In a news conference Friday morning, State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Atchison had prepared for the shooting, including writing a note detailing his plans and a schedule that investigators later found in a trash can in his room.
Investigators don’t know how long Atchison had been planning the shooting, but they said he legally bought the 9mm Glock pistol he used a month earlier.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, Atchison put the gun and multiple magazines into a backpack, pretended to be a student and entered Aztec High School as teenagers swarmed into the building from their buses.
Kassetas said first period had just started when Atchison went to the bathroom to make final preparations.
That’s when 18-year-old Fernandez, who had excused himself from his computer class to go to the restroom, walked in.
“When he opened that door and entered the restroom he encountered the suspect,” Kassetas said. “He had absolutely no chance to survive that encounter. The suspect immediately started firing at him.”
He said Atchison then went into the hallway, where he saw Marquez, 17, and shot and killed her as well.
“From there the shots had been heard and the teachers had sprung into action,” Kassetas said. “He walked up and down the hallway firing randomly, I don’t know how many rounds, but multiple rounds.”
The school immediately went on lockdown and teachers and students hid in closets and under desks. No one else was injured.
As Aztec Police Department officers began to arrive at the school, shooting through a window to gain entry, Kassetas said Atchison killed himself.
When officers found Atchison’s body he had a thumb drive on him with a note outlining his plan for the day.
“If things go according to plan, today would be when I die,” the note said.
“I go somewhere and gear up, then hold a class hostage and go apeshit, then blow my brains out.”
He wrote “work sucks, school sucks, life sucks. I just want out of this shit.”
No criminal history
Special agent Wade said Atchison had lived in Belen at one point and then his family moved to Aztec, where he attended Aztec High School.
Authorities say that at some point he dropped out of the school but it is unclear exactly when or why.
More recently, San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said, Atchison was working at a gas station and living with his parents in a quiet middle class neighborhood just a few blocks west of the Animas River.
Alex Flanders, who moved to the house across the street from Atchison about a month ago, said he recently saw him playing baseball outside with other youths and hanging out.
“From what I saw he was quite sociable,” Flanders said. “All this is pretty shocking that it even happened in the first place.”
People leaving the Atchison’s house did not want to comment Friday afternoon and no one answered the door. Other family members could not be reached.
Atchison did not have any criminal history in New Mexico, not even a parking ticket, according to online court records.
But in March 2016, Wade said FBI agents had taken his online comments about a mass shooting seriously enough to pay him a visit.
Wade said agents had told the Aztec Police Department about the investigation into Atchison at the time, and had let them know when they eventually closed it.
“It was very generic, not a specific threat, but disturbing enough that we wanted to find out who put it out there,” Wade said. “We did a lot of checks, and found no derogatory information on him, no ties to other organizations, or anything like that.”
Wade said there still is no indication Atchison had ties to any organizations, although agents are investigating everything.
“The assessment was subsequently closed after it was determined that no crime had been committed and there was no lawful justification to undertake further investigative steps,” he said. “As frustrating as this is, it’s important to note that absent suspicion of a crime or necessary legal requirements the FBI cannot initiate or maintain an investigation.”