AZTEC, NM – Students hid in their classrooms, some behind closed doors or in lockers, when an armed man opened fire on Thursday inside a high school in New Mexico, killing two classmates before dying.
Authorities in the small town of Los Aztecas, near the border with Colorado, have released few details besides saying that the two victims, Casey J. Marquez and Francisco I. Fernández, attended the Azteca High School. The identity of the shooter has not yet been published.
No other injuries were reported, and it was not clear if the shooter died by suicide or was killed by the police.
The San Juan County Sheriff's Office in a social media post asked the community to pray for the families of Marquez and Fernandez.
The friends shared their condolences on Márquez's Facebook page, which showed photos of the teenager in her cheerleader outfit. Fernandez's friends posted on their page and wore T-shirts that commemorated him during a candlelight vigil that brought together hundreds of people Thursday night.
The authorities planned to publish more information on Friday.
Bryn Divine, a senior, said she was sitting at her desk in her history class when she heard shots explode in the hallway. At first, it sounded like someone was swinging a metal baseball bat against the lockers.
Then he heard that an announcer on the intercom of the school told the students: "This is not an exercise."
"I stayed at my desk, and I just prayed," Please let this end as soon as possible. "That was my first reaction," he said.
Second-year student Garrett Parker told the Albuquerque television station KOAT that he also heard what he thought was hitting the lockers. Then it got stronger and stronger.
"Fortunately, our teacher always closes the door no matter what, so he kept it closed," Parker said. "When they called over the intercom to inform us that it was not a drill, we went to the corner of the room out of sight from the door and started to hide."
Govt. Susana Martinez called the shooting a horrendous and heinous act and told reporters that teachers, school personnel and law enforcement joined together quickly to prevent further deaths. She did not provide more details.
Police responded to the school less than one minute after receiving initial calls, which arrived shortly after the start of the first period. With the school enclosed, they entered through a window and a door.
Authorities searched each room and constructed the school before the students were moved to another place where they met with their parents.
The school remained cordoned off while people faced cold temperatures for the vigil in a nearby park.
David Stone, 16, and Heaven Angelica Hughes, 15, cuddle with friends in freezing temperatures to light candles and exchange stories. Both were in a classroom next to the shots.
"I still can not believe what happened," Stone said. He said one of the victims was his cousin.
Azteca is a rural town of 6,500 people in the heart of the oil and gas country of northwestern New Mexico and close to the Navajo Nation. Its main street is lined with old brick buildings dating back more than a century.
Local, state and federal authorities said at a press conference that they had a lot of evidence to process and many interviews to carry out. They also asked any student who might have seen something to call the police.
School superintendent Kirk Carpenter choked, describing it as a difficult day.
"In schools, our main role and our main job is to educate students and keep them safe, and when you have something like that, it hits you in the heart," he said.
Aztec school officials say that the city schools that closed on Thursday will likely remain closed on Friday.
Residents expressed disbelief in social networks, while members of the New Mexico Congress delegation, State Attorney General Héctor Balderas and other elected officials offered their condolences and other help.
Associated Press writers Mary Hudetz and Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque, New Mexico.