Today would be Kendrick Ray Castillo’s 22nd birthday.
If you don’t know Kendrick’s story, it’s a hero’s story that should be told to our children and grandchildren. Schools should celebrate Kendrick Castillo week, as one top-rated charter school currently does.
On May 7th, 2019, two armed students entered Room 107 at STEM School in Highlands Ranch. They intended to kill all 28 people in that classroom. But for Kendrick Castillo, they would have succeeded. It would have been a Uvalde-scale massacre, before there was a Uvalde massacre.
One of the gunmen gave a command, “Nobody f***ing move!”
With those words barely out of the killer’s mouth, Kendrick was up, pinning that gunman against the wall. His quick action gave others in the classroom the opportunity to disarm the two shooters. Although the killers shot 6 other students, only Kendrick lost his life that day. He absorbed the fatal shot, saving that classroom full of his friends and his teacher —27 in all.
STEM school will never make it to the list of mass school shootings, whose definition includes 4 or more people being killed. We all have Kendrick Castillo to thank for that.
At a memorial service last year at Seven Stones, the beautiful setting that is home to Kendrick’s gravesite, were his teacher, some of the students who Kendrick saved that day, as well as their families. It was not lost on them that Kendrick’s sacrifice saved them. And those students’ words —and their parents’ words— attempting to communicate what that sacrifice means to them today, was both beautiful and gut-wrenching. A chalkboard at Seven Stones had messages from classmates, including one that said, simply, “Kendrick you saved my life.”
They were there to honor Kendrick, and his parents John and Maria. Kendrick was John and Maria’s only child.
In 2020, John told NBC News:
“Evil walked into that room that day, and Kendrick Castillo stepped up and stopped it,” Castillo said. “People are alive today because of his sacrifice,” he said. “And Kendrick would not want his mother and I to wallow in sorrow and not take action, and that’s what we plan to do.”
John and Maria Castillo continue to take action. They speak to school, church, and civic groups. They advocate for policies that will keep children safer at school, such as armed school staff, closed campuses, and mentoring programs. They are keeping Kendrick’s memory alive.
Heroes deserve to be remembered, and their stories told to our children and grandchildren. One day, there will be statues and buildings named for Kendrick. But until then, join me in remembering Kendrick Ray Castillo today, March 14th, on what would have been his 22nd birthday.
Laura Carno is executive director of FASTER Colorado, an organization that trains armed school staff.
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