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Makenzie Rezac wasn’t worried when she first heard Aztec High School was in lockdown.

“I honestly just thought it was a drill or that someone was going around Aztec just doing stupid things, because in the past we’ve had lockdowns called for a bank robbery and people going around and throwing things at signs,” Makenzie said.

But the former Fremont girl and her family — like others from the town in New Mexico — would learn that a 21-year-old gunman had disguised himself as a student to get into the school.

There, William Atchison fatally shot students Francisco Fernandez and Casey J. Marquez.

Associated Press reports say Atchison then walked up and down the hall — firing randomly — before killing himself.

For those who live in the town of about 6,500, the shooting was a shock.

“We never expected anything like this to happen in a small town like Aztec,” Makenzie said.

Makenzie and her mom, Mikala, and twin siblings, Macy and Jonah, moved to Aztec in 2013.

“It’s one of those towns where everybody knows everybody and everyone is nice and really caring. It’s a really cool community,” said Makenzie, now a 15-year-old sophomore.

On Dec. 7 — the day of the shooting — Makenzie was in her world history class wondering if her friend was going to be late, but he made it just in time.

Makenzie was teasing her pal about almost being marked absent when the lockdown announcement came over the intercom.

Then students heard loud banging downstairs.

“We all kind of moved to a corner of the room, but I don’t think any of us had really heard gunshots — at least not like that — so we thought that maybe a student was banging on the lockers or people were moving furniture to scare us,” she said.

A woman on the intercom told students to get down, stay away from doors and windows and to get into their classroom’s closet.

Makenzie believes her teacher didn’t have his 22 students go into the closet, which faced the hallway, for fear the gunman would be able to shoot students through the wall.

Students huddled together, whispering and trying to calm each other. Makenzie said she saw her teacher crying and she started to cry, too.

The students then heard shooting and yelling coming from the other side of a windowed catwalk.

And they heard the sound of running coming toward their room.

The gunman began jiggling door handles and knocking on doors trying to get into the locked classrooms.

“Is this it?” Makenzie wondered. “I wanted to tell her (mom) that I loved her.”

The shots ended.

“We heard the last round of gunshots and it was right next to our classroom and we all just got quiet,” Makenzie said. “We were all terrified, because we didn’t know if that was the cop shooting the shooter or if the shooter shot another student.”

Makenzie’s teacher kept looking through a small window in the door and saw a police officer. Students soon learned they were being evacuated and were given back phones routinely stored during class time.

Students were told to stay quiet and text — not call — their parents.

“Mom, I am okay,” Makenzie texted Mikala. “There was a school shooting right outside my classroom. … I’m not sure what happened yet. They got the person who had the gun, but we have to stay in my classroom.”

Mikala, who works late nights and had been asleep, said a friend previously texted her, asking what was going on. Mikala also had received a vague text from the school, but like her daughter figured the lockdown was due to someone throwing rocks at signs or something similar.

She texted Makenzie and didn’t expect to hear back because students can’t have their phones during class.

Then Mikala got her daughter’s texts with the details of what happened.

“That’s when I jumped up, got my keys and my coat and went out the door,” Mikala said.

Through her texts, Makenzie asked about her 8-year-old twin siblings — not knowing at the time if there was more than one shooter.

Makenzie’s mom also asked her to look for a close family friend, a student who didn’t have a phone.

Soon, Makenzie’s teacher told students they’d be evacuated and patted down by a police officer.

Students formed a single-file line and walked out of the classroom and their teacher told them not to look to the right.

“I put my hoodie up, because I didn’t want to look, because I knew if I looked I’d be scared,” Makenzie said.

Makenzie and other students had to keep their hands on their heads as they walked outside with an officer. The students huddled, hugged each other and cried, before going to a gym where they were searched. They then boarded buses for a convention center, where their parents were to pick them up.

After getting her daughter’s text, Mikala — whose family lives about 12 miles outside of Aztec — got her best friend who lives down the road and whose son also attends the school. They drove together in his minivan.

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“I was trying to keep calm, because he hadn’t heard from his son yet,” Mikala Rezac said.

Parents were told to go to the police station.

“There was probably 100 parents, if not more, there already,” she said. “The police had said the shooter was down.”

An officer said 15 students were injured, although that wasn’t the case.

Various rumors and falsehoods circulated, adding to the angst.

“We heard there was another shooter — that they were searching for him. It got ridiculous and that was the most upsetting to my daughter, because while she was waiting to get on the bus she was reading all this stuff online, all these rumors that were floating around,” Mikala said.

Mikala’s friend learned that students were being taken to a convention center in another town. The two headed there.

It took about 1 ½ hours for students to reach the convention center.

Mikala stayed in communication with Makenzie. But almost two hours passed before Mikala’s friend heard from his son.

Students were brought into the building, grade by grade.

Mikala saw Makenzie.

“Once I got her, I hugged her and wouldn’t let go,” Mikala said.

As time passed, parents and students learned more details about the shooter, who didn’t have a criminal record, but was found with a thumb drive on which he told how he planned to kill others, then himself.

“My understanding is that he hated his life,” Makenzie said.

Aztec High School students returned to class on Monday.

“We’re working on healing,” Makenzie said beforehand.

“It (shootings) can happen anywhere, but people shouldn’t be afraid to send their kids to school,” Mikala said, adding, “I hope every school is as prepared as well as the school here was.”


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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