Substitute Teacher Hailed as a Hero for Saving Students in School Shooting

A substitute teacher has been dubbed a hero for keeping her class safe during a New Mexico high school shooting that claimed the lives of two students, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Kathleen "Katie" Potter, 73, had just kicked off the school day at Aztec High School when she heard shots being fired.

"It was a pop-pop-pop," she said. "I looked out to see, which was probably stupid."

Potter saw custodian Thomas Hill yelling that an active shooter was in the building, so she moved her 17 students from the classroom to an office next door, blocking the door with a sofa because she did not have a key to lock it. She then told the students to take cover on the floor.

The shooter, 21-year-old former student William Atchison, had already killed football player Francisco Fernandez and cheerleader Casey Marquez on his rampage, according to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. He then entered the classroom from which Potter's class had just evacuated.

She said the shooter knew students were on the other side of the classroom wall and he began firing at them. The gunfire lasted about five minutes, but none of the students were hit.

Potter, a retired school psychologist, said she is thankful she completed so many active shooter lockdown drills during her 25-year career.

"It kind of, instinctually, kicked in," she said.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen confirmed Potter's account during a news conference on Friday morning. He also hailed her and Hill as two of the many heroes who kept students safe during the tragic event.

"These people are true heroes right here in our community," Christesen said. "In every one of these things someone steps up and does the right thing."

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said he considers Fernandez, who was shot after he stumbled into Atchison in the restroom, to be another hero; the shots that killed him alerted the school to the presence of an active shooter.

"I'll give you my opinion, regarding Paco: It was an unfortunate circumstance that he entered that bathroom, but by doing so he saved lives," Kassetas said. "I believe the suspect would have armed himself with a weapon and walked right into a classroom, which would have been worse. That in itself, that kid is a hero."

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