(NBC News) The father of a Colorado teenager who died protecting classmates from a school shooter said he had actually discussed with his son what to do if he was ever confronted by a gunman.
“You don’t have to be the hero,” John Castillo told NBC News on Wednesday, recalling his words to his son, Kendrick Castillo.
But the younger Castillo, who hoped to study electrical engineering in college, rejected that advice, telling his dad he wouldn’t think twice about acting to save others if ever face-to-face with an armed intruder.
“‘You raised me this way. You raised me to be a good person. That’s what I’m doing,'” John Castillo quoted his slain son as saying.
Kendrick Castillo’s classmates said the 18-year-old lunged at one of the shooters at STEM School Highlands Ranch in suburban Denver on Tuesday, taking fatal gunfire — but giving others the precious moments they needed to take cover.
“That’s when Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick,” classmate Nui Giasolli told “Today” on Wednesday, “giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape.”
Giasolli said Kendrick Castillo, along with classmates Jackson Gregory and Lucas Albertoni, all engaged the shooter and likely saved her life.
“I think I wouldn’t be standing here right now, I think I wouldn’t be able to tell the stories for how brave Kendrick was, how brave Jackson and Lucas and everybody were because they made that choice to sacrifice themselves so that all of us could go home that night,” Giasolli said.
The family of another student, Joshua Jones, said he was also involved in disarming one of the suspects. They said he was shot twice and is recovering at home after being released from a hospital. Family friend Josh Lewis said that Jones was shot in the leg and hip.
“On Tuesday, May 7th, countless families in our community experienced a situation that will live with us for the remainder of our lives. Like most, we consider ourselves fortunate the result was not much, much worse,” Jones’ family said in a statement. “Our hearts and sincerest condolences go out Kendrick’s family as they deal with this insurmountable loss of such a special hero.”
Friend and classmate Kevin Cole said it didn’t surprise him at all when he learned Kendrick Castillo put himself into the line of fire.
“Kendrick was one of the nicest people at that school by far,” Cole said. “He always helped others whether he knew them or not. He didn’t have a secret motive … It didn’t matter if he knew them personally, if they were new students he was always that person who was there to help.”
Cole fondly recalled how Kendrick Castillo was always helping him with their shared interest of robotics programming.
Distraught dad John Castillo said he can’t fathom how life will go on without his teenage son.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him in our lives,” John Castillo said. “It’s never going to be the same.”
He added: “I don’t know why this happened to such a good kid.”
Both of Kendrick’s parents work for hotels, his dad is an engineer who maintains heating systems for Marriott properties, and his mom, Maria Castillo, an employee at a Ritz-Carlton. A lack of material wealth never seemed to bother the youngster, his dad said.
The young man’s family was seated in the front row, just behind the prosecutor’s table, at suspect Devon Erickson’s initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon. As they sobbed, members of the community who were also in the court hugged them.
“We raised him to be selfless,” John Castillo said. “He never saw that having stuff, being wealthy was important.”
The father visited some of the wounded at the hospital following Tuesday’s shooting.
“I’m so happy the other kids were safe. One kid told me that, ‘He jumped up and charged him, he saved our lives,'” John Castillo said, lamenting how close his 12th-grade son came to graduation. “He only had three days left of school.”