NM Fire Departments Sending Help To California, Health Care Options For Some Vets Expanded

Dec 8, 2017

Police: Gunman Disguised Himself, Randomly Killed At SchoolThe Associated Press

A 21-year-old gunman who disguised himself as a student to get into a New Mexico high school where he killed two students had caught the attention of U.S. investigators more than a year ago, authorities said Friday.

William Atchison, a former student at small-town Aztec High School, had legally purchased a handgun at a local store a month ago and planned the attack, authorities said. He left a message on a thumb drive found on his body that detailed his plan to wait until the students got off buses and made their way to class.

He mingled with students, then walked into school with them and went into a second-floor bathroom to "gear up." Atchison's plan was to shoot up a classroom and then kill himself.

"Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks. I just want out of this (expletive)," he wrote.

More lives could have been lost had Francisco I. Fernandez not walked into the bathroom, authorities said. The gunman shot Fernandez, then walked out into the hallway and encountered the second victim, Casey J. Marquez. He immediately killed her.

Atchison then walked up and down the hall, firing randomly, before killing himself, authorities said.

The shooter did not have a criminal record, much less a traffic ticket, officials said. The only contact with law enforcement was what they described as a generic message on an online gaming forum in 2016 in which he talked about what weapons might be used in a mass shooting.

The FBI said the posting was flagged and investigators talked with the gunman at his home in Aztec, where he lived with his parents. At the time, he did not own any weapons other than an airsoft pellet gun and said he had no plans for an attack and just liked to troll sites online.

The shooting has rocked Aztec, a community of about 6,500 near the Colorado border. Hundreds gathered for prayer services and candlelight vigils and more gatherings are planned over the weekend as residents look for answers.

In one bright spot, authorities said heroes at the school helped save lives.

A substitute teacher heard the gunshots but didn't have a key to lock the door to the computer lab. So she took students into an office or storage area and barricaded the door with a couch.

A custodian also heard the gunshots and yelled for teachers to lock their doors.

Health Care Options Expanded For Some New Mexico VetsThe Associated Press

Specialized care for some veterans in southern New Mexico will be more accessible thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say the agency is giving veterans in Alamogordo the new option to seek advanced care at the VA medical center in El Paso, Texas.

Until now, veterans in Alamogordo needing specialized care have been referred to the Albuquerque VA hospital, which is more than three hours away.

U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich urged VA officials to make the administrative changes after hearing from veterans who said they were delaying or foregoing care because the drive to Albuquerque was too difficult.

Several members of the state Legislature also advocated for the change.

New Mexico Fire Departments Sending Help To CaliforniaThe Associated Press

New Mexico fire departments are sending wildland firefighting personnel to help put out Southern California fires.

The Albuquerque Journal reports five fire departments sent six wildland firetrucks and 18 firefighters to the Chino Hills-area emergency command center in Southern California on Thursday.

Albuquerque Fire Department Lt. Brian Fox says California asked for aid Wednesday morning under an agreement between states to share emergency resources.

Departments in Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Bernalillo County, Corrales and Sandoval County signed up to help.

According to the Interim Fire Chief Gil Santistevan, the New Mexico fire departments will be reimbursed through federal funds.

He says their local operations will not be impacted.

Officials expect the crews to return to New Mexico by Christmas.

New Mexico Elementary Teacher Accused Of VoyeurismThe Associated Press

Authorities say a teacher from southwestern New Mexico is facing a felony charge of voyeurism over allegations he used his cellphone to take inappropriate photos of students.

New Mexico State Police say 38-year-old Frank Ramos Arias of Bayard was arrested Friday and booked into the Grant County jail.

Arias, who teaches at Stout Elementary School in Silver City, denied the allegations in an interview with police. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Police were first notified about the allegations in October. They followed up by conducting interviews with students, and an examination of Arias' phone revealed videos that corroborated victims' statements.

School District Superintendent Audie Brown said the teacher has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Brown also said it's a priority to provide a safe learning environment for students.

New Mexico Legislature Won't Release Harassment RecordsAssociated Press

The New Mexico Legislature is declining to release records about two complaints of sexual harassment involving Statehouse maintenance staff.

Legislative Council Service Director Raul Burciaga on Thursday said the documents are exempt from public disclosure under provisions of the state Inspection of Public Records Act regarding matters of opinion in personnel files.

Legal representatives for the Legislature say there have been only two formal complaints of workplace harassment, in response to public records request about complaints dating back to January 2013. None involve lawmakers or lobbyists.

It is unclear how the complaints were resolved.

New Mexico lawmakers are preparing to rewrite anti-harassment policies for the Statehouse that were adopted in 2008.

Female lobbyists and elected officials say sexual harassment goes unchecked in the Capitol amid ineffective complaint procedures.

Gunman Kills Two At Aztec High SchoolAssociated Press

When the frightened students emerged Thursday from their hiding places at Aztec High School, they learned two of their classmates had been killed.

The shooter also was dead and the close-knit community of 6,500 people was thrust into mourning as they became the latest to feel the sting of what seems to be a routine tragedy in the United States.

Why the shooter chose Casey J. Marquez and Francisco I. Fernandez remained a mystery as detectives combed through evidence. So far, they have released few details.

Police arrived at the school less than a minute after getting the initial calls, which came shortly after the start of first period.

It was not clear if the shooter died by suicide or was killed by police. No other injuries were reported.

Students and community members gathered hours later in churches, community centers and then a park Thursday night, braving frigid temperatures for a candlelight vigil.

Pastors from different churches urged students and their parents to pray and speak up if they felt pain. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez spoke briefly and told the crowed "all of New Mexico is with you."

Officials say schools across town that shut down Thursday will stay closed Friday. 

New Mexico State Arts Agency Seeks Financial BoostAssociated Press

The New Mexico state agency overseeing a world-renowned network of museums and historical sites says additional funding is needed to repair buildings and shore up public services.

Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzalez urged state lawmakers this week to approve $3.2 million in special funding.

She says attendance declined by about 74,000 visits for the year ending June 30 at facilities overseen by the agency as a result of increased admissions fees, reduced hours of operation and reductions in free days for New Mexico residents. Earned admissions revenue increased by $203,000.

The agency's eight state museums and eight cultural sites are a bulwark of the state tourism economy, displaying cultural treasures from the story of Billy the Kid to international folk art, oil paintings and space rockets.

New Mexico Brothers Questioned In Texas Border Agent's DeathAssociated Press

Federal court documents show the FBI questioned two brothers from New Mexico in the death of a border patrol agent in Texas.

A spokeswoman for the FBI's El Paso office said Thursday that the investigation is ongoing into the death of agent Rogelio Martinez. His partner radioed for help and the two were found late Nov. 18 near Van Horn, Texas, with serious injuries. Martinez died at a hospital a few hours later.

The FBI says it is investigating the injuries as a "potential assault," but investigators have not ruled out accidental causes.

The documents obtained by several news outlets before they were sealed show a woman who was in the car with the brothers submitted a tip to authorities.

Neither brother has been charged in the death.

Ex-Priest Convicted Of 1960 Texas Teacher MurderAssociated Press

A former priest who spent time in a treatment center in New Mexico has been found guilty of murder in the 1960 slaying of a South Texas teacher and one-time beauty queen who was a member of the parish he served.

A Hidalgo County jury deliberated 6½ hours after hearing five days of testimony before returning its verdict in the murder trial of 85-year-old John Bernard Feit. He was accused of strangling 25-year-old Irene Garza to death in McAllen, Texas.

Authorities said Garza visited Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, where Feit was a priest, on April 16, 1960. Garza, who was Miss All South Texas Sweetheart 1958, had planned to go to confession that evening. She never returned home.

Prosecutors presented evidence that elected and church officials suspected Feit of killing the woman but wanted to avoid prosecuting him because it might harm the church's reputation and elected officials politically.

Feit later spent time at a treatment center in New Mexico for troubled priests and after that became a supervisor and had a part in clearing priests for assignments to parishes.

Among the men Feit helped keep in ministry was child molester James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was ultimately defrocked and sent to prison.

Sheriff's Deputy Pleads No Contest To Records TamperingEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

A former deputy with a sheriff's office in eastern New Mexico has pleaded no contest to tampering with public records.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports the charge against 31-year-old Brandon Nolen will be dismissed if he completes 18 months of supervised probation.

The former deputy with the Curry County Sheriff's Office was arrested in June, and he also was charged with perjury and possession of a controlled substance. The other charges were dismissed under the plea agreement reached Wednesday.

Authorities say Nolen stole methamphetamines obtained during a March traffic stop and lied about it in sworn documents.

Nolen's attorney Michael Garrett says the agreement is a conditional discharge and not an adjudication of guilt.

Prosecutors say more than 30 criminal cases were dismissed this summer because of Nolen's association.

Interior Delays Obama-Era Regulation On Methane Emissions - By Matthew Daly, Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

The Interior Department is delaying an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

A rule being published Friday delays the methane regulation until January 2019, calling the previous rule overly burdensome to industry. Officials say the delay will allow the federal Bureau of Land Management time to review the earlier rule while avoiding compliance costs on industry that may turn out to be unnecessary.

The action marks at least the third time the Trump administration has moved to delay or set aside the Obama-era rule, which was imposed last year. The rule forces energy companies to capture methane that's burned off at drilling sites because it pollutes the environment.

A federal judge threw out an earlier bid to delay the rule.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports environmental groups slammed the Interior Department’s decision. Officials with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association applauded the move and said industry is moving forward with a voluntary program to reduce methane emissions at drilling sites.