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The 18-year-old senior who lost his life trying to take down the shooter at his Denver-area school Tuesday was honored by about 1,000 students, parents and community members at a vigil in the school gym Wednesday night.
Kendrick Castillo, described as a bright, selfless teen who excelled with technology, was just days from graduation when a shooter opened fire with a handgun in his British Literature class at the STEM School Highlands Ranch around 2 p.m. Tuesday. Castillo was killed when he lunged at the shooter, helping to contain the gunman and give his classmates time to hide or run.
Eight others were wounded in the shooting, which occurred just nine miles from the 1999 Columbine school massacre, a month after the 20th anniversary of that shooting. Two students armed with handguns, ages 18 and 16, have been charged. Police have not yet discovered the motive.
Witnesses described Castillo’s actions as heroic, saying he jumped right into action when the shooter pulled a gun in the classroom. Classmates credited him with giving others time to escape.
"It was immediate, non-hesitation, immediate jump into action," Brendan Bialy told CNN. "The gunman was there, and then he was against the wall and didn't know what the hell hit him."
From there, Bialy and others were able to wrestle the gun from the shooter and pin him down. Bialy told CNN Castillo was unresponsive when he checked on him and that a teacher tried to administer medical aid. Castillo died at the school.
“You don’t have to be the hero”
Castillo’s father, John Castillo, said he had talked with his son about what to do if confronted with a shooter.
"You don’t have to be the hero," Castillo said he told Kendrick, according to NBC News.
But Castillo said his son told him he would act. “You raised me to be a good person,” Kendrick Castillo told his father. “That’s what I’m doing.”
John described being conflicted about his son’s actions when faced with gun violence at his school. He was John and Maria Castillo’s only child.
“Because of what he did, others are alive, and I thank God for that. I love him. And he is a hero and always will be,” he told CNN. “But there’s another part of you that wishes he’d just turned and ran, retreated, hid, did something to put himself out of harm’s way, if that was possible. But we know Kendrick.”
Driven by engineering and technology
Castillo had just three days of high school left when he was killed. With his interest in tech and robotics, he’d been working at an internship at the locally based international firm Baccara USA. His boss, CEO Rachel Short, praised him as a young man who was so great as an intern that she offered him a part-time gig.
"Engineering and technology is what drove Kendrick," Short told Colorado Public Radio. "For a very young 18-year-old to bring the value and the insight and the general knowledge that he did, it’s something that I’ve never seen in my career, especially somebody at this age."
Castillo’s father told the Denver Post that his son was set to attend Colorado’s Arapahoe Community College in the fall, with a planned major in mechanical or electrical engineering. The vigil for Kendrick on Wednesday evening was also subject to impromptu protests from some students who felt the event, featuring speakers Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jason Crow, was being used for political purposes.
People who want to donate to the Castillo family can do so by giving to the Kendrick Castillo Memorial Fund at any Wells Fargo location — there is no official GoFundMe or other similar online donation page.
John and Maria Castillo told the Denver Post it was difficult to register that Kendrick was actually gone.
“My wife and I are in a haze,” Castillo said. “He was everything to us.”
Cover: Students from STEM School hug during a vigil for Kendrick Castillo in the gymnasium at Highlands Ranch High School on May 8, 2019 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)