HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – Thousands gathered at a Colorado church Wednesday to celebrate the life of Kendrick Castillo.
The 18-year-old was just days away from graduating from STEM School Highlands Ranch when two shooters entered his classroom on May 7.
Castillo didn’t hesitate.
He tackled one of the gunmen, losing his life while trying to save those of his classmates.
At a memorial for Castillo held at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, his father, John Castillo, said it was no surprise to him and his wife, Maria, that their son acted as he did on May 7, when he and two classmates disarmed one of the suspects. He urged those in attendance to be more like his son and put love and compassion for others first.
“We love our community,” Castillo said. “We’re a family of three and a little dog, but you know, I feel the love of thousands.”
Speaker after speaker praised the young man, focusing on his character and the accomplishments of his short life. References to the shooting were few, including one by Dakota Mann, who was on the school robotics team with Castillo.
“He died for us. Now it’s time for us to live for him,” Mann said.
A procession featuring more than 600 Jeeps – Castillo was a Jeep and off-road vehicle enthusiast – began around 12:15 p.m.
As attendees streamed into the church, volunteers passed out tissues.
Pastor Dan DeMay said people often ask “why” when terrible things happen.
“The truth is, many times the question of why is often unresolved,” DeMay said.
The better question to ask, he said, is what next?
Castillo would have wanted everyone to move forward in love, kindness, respect and generosity, a number of speakers said.
John Castillo said at the service he knew his son was a gift and a hero, even before he died saving others.
Castillo said we can all learn to make time for people – that we should never be too busy to put something on hold for a little bit to love others.
“We can all be a little like Kendrick,” Castillo said. “There’s risk in love. He knew that.”
Thousands stood in the church to applaud the teen's father as he walked off the stage, the clapping punctuated by sniffles in the audience.
Charlene Molis was Kendrick Castillo’s principal from preschool to eighth grade at Notre Dame Catholic School. During the service, she said that even as a young child Castillo had a heart for helping others.
She recounted a time when, on the first day of preschool, he saw a classmate crying.
Castillo wasted no time moving to comfort the boy. He walked over, put his arm around him and told him it would be OK.
Dakota Mann is a STEM alum and is a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin and a design and fabrication mentor for Team Impulse, a robotics team Castillo was part of. As a mentor, he worked closely with Castillo.
“Everyone was drawn to him,” Mann said. “He was my friend.”
Mann knew Castillo for about four years, he said. Mann was a senior when Castillo was a freshman.
Castillo loved robotics. He spent much of his time at STEM School Highlands Ranch learning and mentoring other kids, Mann said.
That’s why a line of robots from various Colorado FIRST Robotics teams lined the walkway into the church.
“We asked if we could do something like a procession you might do for like a fallen officer or soldier because the effect was so profound,” Mann said.
As folks walked in, they stopped to look at the robots, many decorated with signs bearing Castillo’s name.
Julia Beller, 17, stood on the sidewalk outside the church before the procession began. She goes to Valor Christian High School, just across the street. Beller said she and some fellow students wanted to come out to stand with Castillo’s family and classmates. In her own small way, she said, she wanted to do what she could to show the love of God.
“Sometimes it’s about just being there,” Beller said.
The shooting feels close to home, Beller said.
STEM School Highlands Ranch is just about 4 miles away from Valor. It’s also about 4 miles away from Arapahoe High School, where a shooting took place in 2013. There have also been several student suicides in the Denver area, she said, including at Valor.
The school is also just about 8 miles away from Columbine High School, where 20 years ago two shooters killed 12 students and a teacher.
“I just keep telling my mom, we’re like sitting ducks,” Beller said. “Who’s next? But this is normal for us now.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: 'Now it’s time for us to live for him': Thousands remember Colorado school shooting victim