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    One year after Kendrick’s tragic death during a school shooting, John Castillo reflects on his son’s heroism and faith

    By Andrew Fowler 6/19/2020
    John and his son, Kendrick, volunteer together at a Knights of Columbus event. Image shared courtesy Castillo family, Spirit Juice Studios

    Last month, John Castillo was reminded of the most tragic day of his life. May 7 marked the first anniversary of the death of his only son, Kendrick, who died while saving his friends during a school shooting.

    Kendrick charged a shooter at STEM Highlands Ranch High School in the Denver suburbs and due to his quick actions, his classmates’ lives were spared. But the pain of that day is ever present for John, a Knight from Southwest Denver Council 4844, and his wife, Maria. Every afternoon, they visit Seven Stones Cemetery in Littleton, Colo., to sit at their son’s gravesite.

    During a memorial service on the one-year anniversary — limited in size and live-streamed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — several family friends, state officials, a priest and bagpipers were invited to pray and reflect on what Kendrick’s sacrifice meant to them.

    “The pain is still pretty tough,” John said. “It’s almost harder now than it was a year ago because we were in shock. But we’re getting by.”

    Since the tragic day, John has been advocating and working in the Colorado state capitol for stronger safety school measures, as well as writing a section for the upcoming book, Because of Our Fathers, which explores father-son relationships.

    But more importantly, he has been carrying on Kendrick’s legacy — an absolute commitment to God and to serving the community. As he told the Ukrainian bishops’ sobor (synod) this past December at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, Kendrick was a “catalyst of love” who made God his “number one.”

    “It’s a calling,” John said. “You have choices in this world. There are gifts bestowed upon us daily that people either ignore or reject. Kendrick’s loss is devastating, but it’s also a platform to talk about Kendrick and his life as being a devout Catholic and a good person. And carrying on so that other people don’t feel the pain my wife and I are going through.”

    As Father’s Day approaches, John reminisces about the lessons he taught his son on faith, self-sacrifice and charity as well as teaching him about real heroes like the saints. Kendrick was particularly fond of St. John Bosco. And he “ran with” those lessons — praying at meals in public, serving with the Knights of Columbus and reaching out to those in need.

    According to John, Kendrick was unlike other teenagers.  Always the optimist, Kendrick would not only curb his dad’s anger after being cut-off in traffic, but he also included John in his activities with friends. On weekends, he would take John to the cemetery to visit the gravesite of his paternal grandfather — a Korean War veteran. He did things that he was never asked to do, John reflects.

    “He invited me into his life,” John said. “He reminded me to pray often. Like ‘Dad, do you want to pray the rosary?’ And I would pray.”

    John remembers telling Kendrick if there was ever a school shooting, to hide and stay safe. Kendrick told him, “Ok, I’ll do that. But if I didn’t have a choice, I’d fight back.”

    Those words still echo to John. A heavy reminder of his son’s capability to love and put others before himself. But he is proud of what his son did. Kendrick gave him the greatest lesson.

    “He taught me so much,” John said. “He taught me to be a better person all the way around.”

    After the memorial service, John read a letter left at the gravesite from one of his son’s classmates. The teenager had fallen away from the Catholic faith in high school. But knowing Kendrick and hearing the stories John shared has led the teenager back to the Church.

    “That’s the reaction I’m hoping for, that people will take a second look and find out the value of believing and being good and spreading that word. That they have the ability to change things in their life,” John said.

    Prior to his death, Kendrick wanted to become a member of the Knights of Columbus on his 18th birthday. At the 137th Supreme Convention, he was welcomed posthumously as a member into the Order, and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented the Caritas Medal — the Order’s second highest award — to the Castillos.

    Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email

    Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives.



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