The 21-year-old gunman who terrorized a high school and shot two students dead on Thursday was known to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and infiltrated the school building that morning by disguising himself as a student, according to investigators.
During a Friday news conference, Terry Wade, the FBI special agent in charge in Albuquerque, said William Atchison had belonged to an online gaming forum and, in March 2016, posted a question about the best guns to use in mass shootings. He did not own a firearm at the time.
After that, federal investigators interviewed him and his family and he told agents he had no plans for an attack. The FBI closed the investigation when it determined no crime was committed.
Atchison killed two students on Thursday with his legally purchased 9 mm handgun before shooting and killing himself upon police's arrival less than a minute after they were notified.
“He was focused and he was deranged,” San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christiansen told reporters at a news conference on Friday, when authorities also confirmed the shooter’s identity and, for the first time, provided further details about how the attack was carried out.
Police found Atchison's plans laid out in a thumb drive in his clothing after the shooting. “If things go according to plan, today [will] be the day I die,” read one note found among the files, authorities said on Friday.
The document went on to lay out the rest of his scheme: He would find a place inside Aztec High to “gear up” with his 9 mm handgun and multiple magazines and then find a classroom to hold hostage, “then go apes— and then blow my brains out.”
The message also expressed the gunman’s hatred for the state of New Mexico, authorities said — but beyond that, they were not commenting on a possible motive, Sheriff Christiansen said Friday.
According to authorities, Atchison did not know his two victims, an 18-year-old football player named Francisco Fernandez and a 17-year-old cheerleader named Casey Marquez, but had attended Aztec High years ago. Police say he did not graduate, as he moved out of the district before his senior year.
Atchison lived with his parents in Aztec and worked at a gas station. Police say he had no criminal record.
"He’s not only a coward, he’s evil," Christiansen said.
Investigators told reporters that Atchinson entered the building around 8:00 a.m., blending in with the throng of students entering the building. He then found an empty second-floor bathroom to prepare. With the hallways mostly empty as the school day was underway, he headed for the door just as Fernandez entered the bathroom.
Fernandez — reportedly a football player known to his family and friends as “Paco” — “had absolutely no chance to survive that encounter,” New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told reporters.
After shooting Fernandez, the gunman exited into the hallway where he encountered Marquez, a cheerleader. “He immediately shot her dead,” Kassetas said.
Staff at the school sprang into action upon hearing the gunfire, barricading doors and leading students to safety.
“He walked up and down the hallway, firing randomly and shooting into classrooms,” Kassetas said. He also yelled, “I know you’re in there!”
No one else was struck by a bullet, even though the shooter reloaded multiple times, according to Kassetas.
Authorities arrived within a minute of being notified of the shooting. As they entered the school building, the shooter took his own life.0comments
“He was determined to create as much carnage as he could,” Christiansen said, noting Fernandez’s presence likely saved other students by triggering the attack prematurely.
Authorities said Friday their investigation remains ongoing and that they continue to pour over the recovered thumb drive and the shooter’s home computers for insight into what drove him to kill.