Live like Kendrick Castillo. Be brave. Be industrious. Have integrity. Show love.
That was the overarching message at a May 15 celebration of life service at Cherry Hills Community Church. More than 3,500 people gathered at the church to honor Castillo, the sole fatality in the May 7 school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch
that left eight other students injured. Less than two weeks away from graduating, the 18-year-old charged one of the two suspects to save other students.
The crowd — a mix of STEM students and families, law enforcement, politicians, Douglas County School District leaders and local residents — filled the sanctuary of the Highlands Ranch church to celebrate Castillo, a young man who, by most accounts, lived and learned more in his 18 years than most do in a lifetime.
“Kendrick just seemed to be happiest when he was serving others, but he did this humbly,” Charlene Molis, Kendrick's principal at Notre Dame School from kindergarten through eighth grade, said to the crowd. “We are all better people for having known Kendrick, and now he is our guardian angel.”
A group of young men, friends of Kendrick, carried a gray casket, adorned with bouqets of bright yellow roses down an aisle to the front of the sanctuary. On the stage were a kayak, black and red dress jackets hanging from the ceiling and an elaborate robot, all pieces of Castillo's life. He wore the red jacket when he ushered at his church. He was on two robotics teams at STEM. And he loved to adventure outdoors.
Friends, family and teachers who spoke at the service painted a picture of Castillo and the impact he had on others.
Molis remembers Kendrick's first day of kindergarten. He saw a kid crying across the room, so he walked over, put his arm around the child and told him it was going to be OK. He gave 110 percent in everything, Molis said. When he dressed up as a cowboy, he was the best-dressed cowboy in the room.
“When he went to Mass, he wore his signature, three-piece suit,” Molis said. Guests in the audience chuckled.
Castillo was a friend to many.
He met Jordon Monk in an engineering class. The two had a lot in common — detailing cars, tinkering with electronics, the movie “Wayne's World,” the song “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“No matter how silly or crazy we looked, we didn't care — because we had the time of our lives doing it,” Monk said.
Two pastors and a reverend, who each represented a different church in the Denver metro area, encouraged hope, love and healing in the community. A member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization to which Castillo belonged, along with a few of Castillo's teachers, reflected on the difference Castillo made in the world.
Mike Shallenberger, Castillo's engineering teacher for four years, laid over Castillo's casket an honor cord for his involvement in STEM's Technology Student Association.
"When I think of Kendrick," Shallenberger said, "I think of love."
In his father's eyes, Castillo was a "gift" and a "hero."
He was a man of faith, John Castillo told the audience. He knew right from wrong. He cared deeply about his family and friends.
“To carry on his life's message, we need to be more like him,” said John. His wife, Maria, was seated behind him. “When somebody is struggling and moving into darkness, you need to sit down with them and figure it out.”
John emphasized the importance of making time for one another, of being present. He wants to do just that for the friends Kendrick left behind. His door is open, he said. He's a phone call away. He wants to hear the stories of his son.
“Love is simple,” John said. “I didn't teach him that, he taught me.”