On Dec. 7, 2017, William Atchison walked through an unlocked door at his former high school in Aztec, New Mexico, and used a legally purchased semi-automatic handgun to kill Casey Marquez, a cheerleader who coached gymnastics, and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, a football player. Then he turned the weapon on himself as police closed in.
It was one of 50 school shootings in 2017 — and an instance of how missed signals can precede tragedy, echoing the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, when the FBI failed to act on tips about the shooter, and in Oxford, Michigan, where school officials are accused of ignoring obvious warning signs.
An NBC News examination of the Aztec High School shooting — including a review of government records and an audio recording of an FBI interview of the future shooter — found a series of missed opportunities that point to what some experts say are nationwide shortcomings in how authorities assess and respond to potentially violent domestic extremists.
“This is yet another example of system failure,” said James Densley, an expert in mass shootings who co-founded The Violence Project. “There’s no national unified standard that everybody follows in terms of how to conduct these threat assessments and how to join those dots together.”