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Aztec High shooter visited ‘neo-Nazi’ websites, father says

FARMINGTON – New details from the Aztec High School shooting investigation were revealed in a lengthy incident report issued by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and obtained by The Farmington Daily Times.

The report documents firsthand accounts of responding officers controlling the scene and evacuating students and staff. It describes how the shooter came to purchase the handgun he used in the killings. It notes that the shooter’s father once told him in jest not to conduct a school shooting with the gun.

A torn note left by William Atchison discovered after the high school shooting that left three dead. (SOURCE: San Juan County Sheriff’S Office)

The report also documents that the shooter, who had dropped out of high school and in recent years built a racist online persona, once allegedly threatened to shoot a neighbor.

Despite that threat, which brought police to the door, and an FBI investigation that brought authorities into the family’s living room in March 2016, 21-year-old Aztec resident William Atchison went virtually under the radar as authorities investigated a sibling instead.

The shooter walked to the Aztec high campus on the morning of Dec. 7, 2017, entered a building and shot and killed 17-year-old Casey J. Marquez and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez.

The shooter then shot into classrooms before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, leaving authorities puzzled as to his motive.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the case is complete, and investigators are awaiting reports from the New Mexico State Police crime scene division, according to Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln of the Sheriff’s Office.

The length of the investigation was due to two factors.

William Atchison

That the shooter took his own life affected parts of the case, since no one was alive to prosecute.

Instead, a lot of time was spent determining if the shooter had any accomplices. Investigators also searched for a motive, Lincoln said.

They found neither accomplices nor a motive. Investigators determined that the killer may have selected the anniversary of the 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor as the day to carry out his plan.

Although he had no known accomplices, the shooter did use online community comment boards, one of which sought out people who were obsessed with school shootings and tolerant or supportive of his racist posts.

The shooter was in contact with and talked with 18-year-old Ali David Sonboly, who shot and killed nine people in a Munich, Germany, mall on July 22, 2016.

The large-scale school shooting investigation involved hundreds of people from local, state and federal agencies.

Lincoln said the actions of the Aztec police officers who were first on scene and the actions of the teachers following policies and locking doors prevented additional deaths

Interviews with the father

Wayne Atchison would stand outside his 21-year-old son’s bedroom and listen to the troubling sounds coming from a computer.

Through the bedroom door, Wayne told an investigator on Dec. 7 that he’d heard the sounds of the “neo-Nazi” or “propaganda” websites his son visited. He heard discussions of topics he didn’t like and believed were a bad influence on his son.

The shooter’s father was interviewed by authorities at his residence shortly after his son was identified as the shooter, according to the incident report.

The father told police he believed his son was the person who conducted the shooting, stating he put “feelers” out into the community. He was surprised by the news of his son’s death, adding that he thought William was in jail.

The father did not provide any details on what he heard from the “neo-Nazi” or “propaganda” websites, but stated that “he doesn’t like what they are saying.”

The shooter’s autopsy report noted that faint ink markings of “SS,” “build wall,” and a swastika symbol were found on his left leg.

The father told investigators about an online video game his son played in which players established a “timeframe” of a shooting by building versions of schools or malls to conduct practice runs.

The father also noted that his son had purchased a gun, and said he warned his son not to point it at anyone. The killer and his brother went shooting, taking the handgun and a recently purchased .22 caliber rifle with them, about two weeks before the killings, the report said.

“He said he also told William to never … do a school shooting,” Aztec Police Capt. Troy Morris wrote in his report. “I questioned why he should feel the need to say that to William, and he said, ‘I said it kinda clowning around I thought.’ ”

The shooter had a longtime history of speaking with school counselors and was seeing a counselor in Farmington until the counselor retired, his father told investigators. His son made two trips to a new counselor, then stopped going and dropped out of school, his father said. The father said his son had spoken about being “picked on” while walking between classes at Aztec High.

During his interview, the shooter’s father recognized one of the FBI agents who spoke to William in March 2016 regarding some posts to online forums, including a post about shooting up his former school.

Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal told attendees during a Coffee with the Chief event in April that the FBI told Aztec police that they were investigating William’s brother.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher declined to comment, stating the investigation is ongoing.