Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
FARMINGTON – Hundreds of friends, family and fellow students filed into the Piñon Hills Community Church on a brisk Friday morning here to celebrate the life, and mourn the death, of a young man gunned down just a week before at Aztec High School.
More than 50 motorcycles flanked the walkway to the church as mourners, dressed formally beneath winter coats and scarves, walked into the 10 a.m. memorial for 17-year-old Francisco “Paco” Fernandez Jr.
Fernandez was shot and killed Dec. 7 when he walked in on 21-year-old William Atchison in the bathroom of Aztec High School as Atchison loaded weapons, preparing to commit mass carnage on the campus. Atchison also killed Casey Jordan Marquez, 17, moments later, before stalking the halls and classrooms, eventually killing himself. No one else was injured.
Dozens of motorcycles, lowriders and classic cars, Cadillac Coupe Deville and Chevrolet Bel-Air, escorted Fernandez to his final resting place at Memory Gardens Cemetery five miles away.
The chrome rims and kaleidoscope of bright paint jobs reflected in the morning sun and messages like “Aztec Strong,” “Rest Eazy” and “RIP Paco” were scribbled on windows in thick white and orange lettering.
“We are extremely thankful and overwhelmed by the love, prayers and support that has been shown by the entire community to our family during this very difficult time,” Fernandez’s family wrote in a statement. “His passion for life was evident in every way.”
Fernandez, originally from Farmington and known by those close to him as “Paco,” loved playing sports – his favorite teams were the New England Patriots and Oklahoma City Thunder – and he enjoyed video games in his spare time, according to his obituary.
His favorite thing to do was hang out with family, including his three siblings, and friends.
“We continue to feel his love, and it’s comforting to know that he will live forever in our hearts,” the family wrote.
Sharon Schupla, her wife Mona, granddaughter Tamson and two dogs, joined more than 100 people who stood along Piñon Hills boulevard waiting for the procession to pass.
“We made sure we got up early so we could be out here and show our support,” said Schupla, a lifelong resident of Farmington. “We’ve always been very close to everybody in the area.”
The crowd, including Schupla, dressed in mainly black and orange and held homemade signs reading “We love you Paco” and “Aztec Strong.”
Schupla, whose son had attended Aztec High School, said she has seen an outpouring of generosity in the community since the tragedy.
“I’ve noticed a lot more people saying hi to each other, that don’t know each other, almost everybody that you pass,” she said. “It’s humbling.”
Schupla said she knows it won’t be easy but believes Aztec will pull through in the end.
“Everybody has a lot of heart,” she said. “We’re all going to have to stick together.”
As the funeral procession passed, the large crowd held signs high and released numerous orange and black balloons, letting them float slowly into the afternoon breeze.