FARMINGTON – Residents of a rural New Mexico town say they have worked hard to define a new normal following a December school shooting in their community that left two 17-year-old students and the 21-year-old shooter dead.
But they say the healing process is far from over, The Daily Times reports .
Residents of Aztec – a community of about 6,500 near the Colorado border – have faced challenges in the recovery process, especially when other shootings across the nation have triggered feelings of fear and anxiety in people living with post-traumatic stress, Aztec Church of Christ minister Johnathan Dobbs said.
“Four months out, we would have been in a much better place if it hadn’t been for Kentucky and if it hadn’t been for Florida,” Dobbs said, speaking of deadly school shootings in Benton, Kentucky, in January and Parkland, Florida, in February.
“By the time (the Parkland shooting) happened, it was like, ‘Really? Are we going to have one every month now?’”
Casey Jordan Marquez and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez were killed Dec. 7 when a gunman disguised as a student opened fire inside Aztec High School.
The gunman later killed himself, police said.
“Of course, it’s been traumatic and hard, and school is sad,” said Robin Collins, a reading teacher at Lydia Rippey Elementary School. “It’s still sad, but time is hopefully going to help heal.”
An initial and enduring result of the tragedy has been an increase in compassion and empathy for each other, Aztec Public Library director Kate Skinner said.
“Has it changed us? Yes,” Skinner said. “I think it’s given us this heightened awareness that human beings are fragile, and that community and society is fragile.”
The Aztec Municipal School District has offered students and staff emotional support as needed since the shooting, something Aztec High School Principal Warman Hall said likely will need to continue over the long term to facilitate healing.
“We’re at an interesting place where we really understood that for quite a while now, and even coming in the future, we’re going to need emotional-support providers, probably at least therapists on call or nearby,” Hall said.
Hall also emphasized the importance of increased security on campus. Three unarmed security guards have been patrolling the school since students returned in January, and Aztec police officers stop by the school often, including an additional dedicated school resource officer.