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No Greater love


by John Castillo

The father of Kendrick Castillo remembers his son, who gave his life to save his friends in a high school shooting

Kendrick Castillo (center) and his father, John

Kendrick Castillo (center) and his father, John, prepare breakfast with members of Southwest Denver Council 4844 at Notre Dame Catholic School in Denver in 2016. Photo courtesy of Joseph Nguyen

Kendrick Castillo did not hesitate. He charged the gunman, a fellow student, pinning him to the wall. Two classmates were right behind him and disarmed the assailant, but not before shots were fired. Kendrick was fatally wounded. A second shooter opened fire in another part of the school, injuring eight before also being subdued.

It was May 7, just days before Kendrick was to graduate from STEM School Highlands Ranch in suburban Denver. During a May 15 memorial service that drew 3,000 people, Kendrick’s father, John, a member of Southwest Denver Council 4844, spoke about his life. Here is an abridged version of John Castillo’s remarks.

People have asked, “Where do you find your strength in a time like this?” Well, I have to tell you, it’s easy for Maria and me, because there’s so much love in the world. We had so much love from Kendrick.

It’s no secret to us that Kendrick did what he had to do — we’ve said that over and over. But you really have to understand who Kendrick was to understand why he would do that.

When we’re brought into this world, we’re an empty vessel, and we’re filled up by our parents and our communities. We’re introduced to faith, and we make choices whether we want to accept the good stuff or we don’t. Your families can take you to church, but if you’re unwilling to accept your faith and live it, it’s not going to do much good.

Kendrick was quick to figure things out, even as a young boy. If I had to describe him, the first word that comes to mind is love — love for anybody he met. And I mean anybody. He was compassionate. If you were walking down the street and you stumbled, he’d walk over to make sure you were OK.

There’s risk in love — risk of being hurt, risk of rejection. Kendrick knew this, and he never wavered. And he knew right from wrong.

But what was extraordinary to me is that you could give Kendrick a shiny object — an expensive Macbook or a vehicle — and whatever it was, he would quickly find out that it was just that, a physical thing. We can’t take such things with us when we pass. Kendrick knew that they were simply instruments to connect him to other people.

When we would go hunting, he knew that it was never about getting elk or deer, but about the bond and relationship. It was about the adventure. We’d pack up the fifth wheel and would almost hope that a tire would blow out or something, because it was creating that memory and bond with his dad and his grandfather. Kendrick figured that out early, and he never lost his innocence.

He pulled me into the robotics team. He welcomed me there, but like other teenage boys, he would separate himself and say to me, “I’m going to go over here; don’t bother me.” But sometimes, when I’d get busy doing things, he’d come over and say, “Hey, Dad, somebody’s having a bad day; you might want to go talk to him.” And then he’d run off and pretend he never talked to me.

Handwritten messages from STEM School students

Handwritten messages from STEM School students cover a poster with the words of John 15:13. Photo by Ryan Dearth

You heard about his upbringing in Catholic school and then moving to a technology-oriented high school. I never had to worry, because Kendrick just moved what he learned in a Catholic environment right with him. He brought the pancake breakfasts that we were doing and extended that to teachers on their professional development day. He took trunk-or-treat, and took a small group and made it big, to make little kids happy.

I’ve always known he was a gift and a hero. He was filled up with the good stuff. Maria and I, we can take credit for it, but you all have something to do with that, too. Community builds strong people.

Kendrick was proud of our aerospace community and robotics, and he figured out right away that if you engineer something that has 15 or 20 steps, it’s not going to work as efficiently as if it had only three. The bottom line is that our love for one another is not so different — it’s actually really simple. And I didn’t teach him that. He taught me.

If Kendrick were here, he would want me to have the strength to help everybody heal. Because he knows I can’t do anything for him now other than reach out to his friends and family and make sure that they are comforted. And I think that he would want me to continue his charge of going out and meeting people and becoming better people ourselves.

Yes, I’m going to have moments of sadness, and I know my wife is. Kendrick loved his mother immensely, and they had a special bond. But because of this beautiful human being that we brought into this world, we’re going to get through it.

The really big thing — it’s not difficult. We just have to love, take time.

When Kendrick was a child, my wife would say, “It’s kind of slow at your work today; you should see if you can check out for a couple of hours.”

I needed to hear that, and that’s what I did. I’d show up at Kendrick’s school, and we’d eat a hamburger and I’d meet his friends. We only have one shot to do things like that.

Life is short, we move through it. And then when our work is done, we’re called home. Cherish the moments every step of the way. Nothing gets so busy that we can’t put it on hold for a little bit.

I’ll be praying for all of you. Walk your faith like Kendrick did, never wavering. And we need to reach out to people who are on the margins of society. They’re everywhere. Our world needs help.

But there’s goodness underneath, there’s Kendrick underneath. The love of police officers, first responders, clergy — we’re all filled up with the good stuff. What you choose to do with it is really up to you.

We love you, and thank you for loving our son.


Joseph Nguyen, faithful navigator of Mother Seton

Joseph Nguyen, faithful navigator of Mother Seton Assembly 1843 and past grand knight of Southwest Denver Council 4844, also spoke at the memorial service for Kendrick. Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

THE BOOK OF WISDOM says, “The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the eyes of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace” (3:1-3).

It is with these words that I remember Kendrick Castillo, for the just young man that he was — one who imitated Christ’s self-sacrificing love and gave of himself so that others might live and be safe.

I remember Kendrick as a young man at the parish that he and I belong to. Kendrick was an altar server and a minister of hospitality at our church, and a student leader at our school.

Kendrick was united to his father and mother in love, as the Holy Family was. Kendrick, who gave his life in service to the Church, taught us empathy, compassion and love. As a young man, he taught us many things and was wise beyond his years.

It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to him today, but it is with the joy of the Easter season that we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. We know, too, that Kendrick has gone to be with his heavenly Father and Savior he served for 18 years.

Webster’s Dictionary defines charity as “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity”; unity as “a quality or state of being made one”; and fraternity as “a group of people associated or formally organized for a common purpose or good.”

These are three of four principles that Kendrick and his father, John, have modeled their lives after. As it relates to his service with the Knights of Columbus, in everything he did with his father there was a smile on his face. Together, John and Kendrick documented 2,600 hours of community service with the Knights.

Kendrick loved people, he loved his Church, and he loved his God. If you go out today and serve in the manner that Kendrick served, in love, his death will not be in vain.

Although we have lost in Kendrick a friend, the Knights of Columbus and all of us here have lost Kendrick our brother.

To John and Maria, the Church and community are here to support you, and to love you in the days, months and years to come, and to honor your son. The Knights of Columbus will be with you on your journey of grief in the days that lie ahead.

With that, I present a token of our love and appreciation [a glass plaque] on behalf of the Knights of Columbus. Today, Kendrick is forever a brother Knight.

Kendrick, you will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.


To learn more about the Knights, click here.