A Reflection on the Aztec shooting by Synod Moderator Maribeth Culpepper

A Reflection on the Aztec shooting by Synod Moderator Maribeth Culpepper

It’s been almost a week since this little town was shaken to its core by a shooter at the high school who killed two students, Paco and Casey. A planned event, meant to do so much more damage, by an unstable young adult. So many heroes in Aztec High School, following established procedures, keeping their students safe; Emery Hill following the shooter down the hall, yelling at staff to go into lockdown mode.

This community came together; first responders were brought so much food, water, and warm beverages that they ended up giving some away so it didn’t go to waste. The ministerial alliance gathered immediately and planned a vigil for that evening. It was attended by 1,000 people who really needed to be in community and pray together. Church doors were opened with signs welcoming people in, pastors ready with resources. Fund me accounts were set up, even more resources gathered, and counselors in the community making themselves available at no cost.

The surrounding communities offered their support; Rebecca Morgan organized an Interfaith Service of Lament and Support at First Pres Farmington that evening. The invitation said to ‘bring your broken hearts’. All the schools in the area changed their letter on the hill to the color orange. People wrote songs and poems and offered designs of this area being in solidarity. The Native community called in drummers and traditional healers through AIM, American Indian Movement, using space at Kirtland High School. The Native students boarding at the Aztec dorms invited attended the Kirtland gathering.

The extended family of this community have sent their support; high schools through-out the state sending messages via social media or taking a moment of silence before a game; Presbytery, Synod, GA Presbyterian Disaster Assistance all reaching out, so many individuals through these groups reaching out to us with love and support. There’s so much to be grateful for.

And then there is the subsequent fallout that causes us to weep and wail in despair. Like the lost innocence of our children, knowing all of them, K-12, huddled under desks and in closets for 2+ hours without knowing exactly what the danger was, only that they were afraid. Holding and calming them as they thought about returning to school. Trying desperately to answer their questions in a way that would help them understand and yet not scare them further.

Support for the shooters family is not obvious, more people are choosing to ignore him. Their son has been called evil by the County Sherriff and the Governor. I can’t imagine hearing that said all over the news and in the newspaper. There’s not been any obvious support for his family and they must be devastated as well. I understand not wanting to use his name, not to give him any notoriety, the family still needs support.

And finally, the root issue for me in all of this is not gun control, although some pieces of the law may need to be looked at, it’s the lack of mental health funding. There is a lack of awareness of the great need for mental health services. There is still such a stigma attached to mental health diagnosis and yet there are so many people with unmet mental health needs. We live in a time of consumerism, many parents work at least two jobs to provide for their family, so there is hardly any time for parents to be home with their children, supporting them as they grow and develop. Although many schools have a zero-tolerance policy about bullying, the reality is this is a huge problem in many schools which is not addressed in an effective manner. This is the right time to press forward with mental health awareness and lobbying for additional services. These efforts won’t change what’s happened here in Aztec, it may provide healing and prevent a future occurrence.

Ruling Elder Maribeth Culpepper, Moderator
Synod of the Southwest



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