Roswell Daily Record, Mark Wilson / AP
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 | 11:26 p.m.
ALBUQUERQUE — Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday the boy who was shot in the face and neck at a New Mexico middle school is heavily sedated and on a breathing machine, but his doctors are optimistic.
Martinez told reporters the student remained in critical condition at a Lubbock, Texas, hospital and doctors have repaired slight damage to his heart. She also said his face and head are covered in pockmarks from the shotgun pellets, and both of his eyes were injured.
Still, she said, the boy has improved. "The doctors feel good about him," Martinez said.
The news came as students returned to Berrendo Middle School in Roswell two days after a seventh-grader there opened fire in a crowded gym, wounding the boy and a 13-year-old girl. A school staffer suffered minor injuries.
Martinez identified the hospitalized boy as 12-year-old Nathaniel Tavarez, contradicting previous reports that he is 11. She noted she visited Nathaniel and the injured girl, Kendal Sanders, on Wednesday and said Kendal is expected to be released soon.
The suspected shooter, another 12-year-old boy, has been charged as a juvenile with three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Under New Mexico law, the state can charge minors as adults only if they are at least 14, said Dorene Kuffer, an Albuquerque attorney not associated with the case. The Associated Press typically doesn't identify juveniles accused of crimes.
At the school Thursday, residents waving American flags and holding yellow ribbons greeted students who arrived for class on buses and in parents' cars. Students also wore yellow ribbons in honor of their two injured classmates.
Roswell Superintendent Tom Burris said Berrendo staff members are ready to talk students through Tuesday's shooting.
"It's a face of compassion. It's a face of love that you have to put on," Burris said he told teachers a day before students returned.
Authorities said they've turned up evidence that the suspect planned the attack and that he warned some classmates to stay away moments before opening fire.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said it appeared the victims were chosen randomly.
Dozens of Berrendo Middle School students and teachers have been interviewed over the past two days, and searches have been conducted, leading to some key details. Still, investigators have yet to speculate about a motive, and teachers and students were bracing for a tough road ahead as classes resumed and the search for more answers continued.
Meanwhile, the suspect's family released a statement saying they were heartbroken and that the two injured children were in their thoughts and prayers. The family also said it would cooperate with law enforcement to "piece together how this awful tragedy occurred."
Kassetas said investigators executed search warrants at the school, examining the boy's locker and the duffel bag he used to carry the shotgun into the gym. They determined through those searches that the attack was planned, Kassetas said.
The police chief also said the shotgun came from the boy's home and that the handle was sawed off so it had "more of a pistol grip." The boy had three rounds of ammunition.
Kassetas said authorities had some indication that the boy verbally warned some students about the attack as he arrived at the school. He didn't elaborate.