FARMINGTON – Hundreds of people gathered Sunday in northwestern New Mexico for a memorial service and bonfire to remember a 17-year-old student killed in a school shooting rampage in the small city of Aztec.
Casey Jordan Marquez was a cheerleader who planned to travel to Florida to perform as part of a cheer squad during the upcoming Orange Bowl.
Marquez and 17-year-old Francisco “Paco” Fernandez were killed on Dec. 7 when a gunman disguised as a student opened fire inside Aztec High School.
Authorities have said 21-year-old William Atchison planned the attack, but the victims weren’t specifically targeted.
People were asked to write messages to put on the wood for the bonfire at Marquez’s service.
Many of the mourners at Sunday’s service were cheerleaders from all over New Mexico’s San Juan County. They presented a cheer bow and a shadow box to Marquez’s mother.
Friends of Marquez said she had a big heart and always helped people, including showing new students around Aztec High.
Her family issued a statement saying they “have quickly learned that her angel wings spread further than any of us realized.”
The room at San Juan College was adorned with orange and black balloons, representing Aztec High’s colors. Residents of the tight-knit community were encouraged to bring balloons in the two colors along with signs bearing the mantra “Aztec Strong.”
“Aztec is not your ordinary town. Everybody knows everybody,” said Susan Aguirre, who owns Lil Aztec Flower Shop, told Albuquerque TV station KOB. “We know our police officers, our commissioners. It’s not a city. It’s not a town of strangers, so it’s very special.”
“(It’s) the story of love and support that’s going to continue,” added Aztec High cheer coach Debbie Johnson. “These kids are our children. We love them, and we protect them and we take care of them.”
A memorial for Fernandez was held Friday in Farmington.
Investigators said it was likely more lives could have been lost if Fernandez had not walked into the bathroom where the gunman was hunkered down.
The gunman shot Fernandez, then walked out into the hallway and encountered Marquez. He immediately killed her.
With some calling him a hero, Fernandez’s family remembered him as a teenager who loved sports, video games and hanging out with relatives and friends.
School officials plan to transform a space damaged by the shooting into an open-learning commons area and dedicate it to the victims.
Students are scheduled to return to school Monday. They’ll start off the day with a special assembly before heading to class.