Columnists, Featured, Jon Caldara, Transparency, Uncategorized

Caldara: The Castillos fight to shine light on STEM school shooting

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

One of the greatest aspects of my job running the Independence Institute, writing columns, talking on radio and appearing on TV has been getting to meet some of the most fascinating and influential people in Colorado.

Among the top honors has been becoming friends over the years with John and Maria Castillo. Through them I’ve become to know their beautiful son, Kendrick who saved countless lives on May 7, 2019, by giving his own life in taking on mass shooters at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch.

He put himself between bullets and more victims while he and classmates engaged the shooters, brought them down and subdued them.

Through his soft-spoken, mild-mannered and peaceful parents I feel I know this young man, his love of science and robotics, his fascination with life. The love they have with their only son is stunning, and how they are manifesting that love is even more so. These are two of the most beautiful people I’ve had the pleasure to know.

We all know Kendrick as the hero who has saved lives. What you may not know is John and Maria Castillo, his still very grieving parents, are every bit the same brave heroes and their work is on course to save even many, many more school children from mass shooters. They’re doing this in a couple of ways. First, by simply getting the truth out.

The STEM school should be ashamed for their lack of transparency. Their sinful behavior for not providing these grieving parents, all parents, and all other schools with the simple truth of what really happened at the shooting will hamper efforts to prevent similar massacres.

After requests for open records were denied, John and Maria Castillo succeeded in using the recent Claire Davis School Safety Act to find out what really led up to the death of their son and what systems failed to protect him and the other six students injured.

The Castillos were present each time their tenacious and passionate lawyer, Dan Caplis, deposed 20 school staff and others. They obtained thousands of emails and documents. They merely want this information made public.

They know what’s in these depositions and documents. I do not.

They believe what it will reveal will, “shock the conscience of the public, and will force urgently needed school safety changes.”

STEM doesn’t want us to know what John and Maria Castillo now know.

STEM has offered the Castillos the maximum compensation allowed under the Claire Davis School Safety Act to keep the info bottled up, $387,000.

That is an impressive amount of cash, and the Castillos are not people of great means. But they didn’t even blink. They immediately turned down the hush money.

STEM is now asking a judge to force them to take the hush money and keep the information buried.

STEM’s public relation’s flak says they don’t want the information released because of student privacy and school safety. If this issue wasn’t so somber, that would cause a belly laugh.

Any student information, any personal information at all, would of course be fully redacted. And that’s not what the Castillos, other parents or the public want to know.

I have no idea what is in those depositions, but if there is some horrifying systematic failure in school security that, if exposed, will put our children in danger, it sure seems like the nutjob kids who spend seven hours a day there have already figured it out. And they will continue to.

In fact, when such a systematic failure is made fully known, media pressure, parent pressure, public pressure will see it resolved faster than keeping it a secret. Oh, and if it matters, STEM is a public school. And I heard the government was supposed to tell us the truth, otherwise the whole democracy thing breaks down.

Most all the placebo gun control bills in the Colorado legislature will pass and be signed into law. And it will do nothing to stop the violence. School shootings will continue.

John and Maria’s quiet passion and methodic work to get the truth out about the security failures in our schools might provide information needed to save lives. I suspect it may lead to the needed conversation about armed staff.

And the Castillos are brave enough for that conversation too.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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