When Sara Haynes heard about the shooting at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, she prayed. A Catholic school teacher in Denver until just recently, she knew some of her former students were now high schoolers at STEM.
When Haynes learned that Kendrick Castillo, a former student of hers, was the lone casualty in the May 7 shooting, she cried immediately.
Then she reached out to the other students who had been in the same 7th and 8th grade math and religion classes at Notre Dame Catholic School as Castillo. Details of Kendrick’s death were not yet public, but her students guessed Castillo had died trying to protect others, Haynes said.
“I went to my students and we were all just sharing together. And I said: ‘Do you guys think that he blocked the shooter?’ And they said: ‘Yeah.’ I mean, it just wasn’t a shock to us” that he would give his life for others, Haynes said.
On Wednesday, Kendick’s father, John Castillo, confirmed to the Denver Post what he had learned from witnesses and the coroner: that Kendrick died while charging the shooter to save his friends.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” John Castillo told the Denver Post. “He cared enough about people that he would do something like that, even though it’s against my better judgment.”
“I wish he had gone and hid,” Castillo added, “but that’s not his character. His character is about protecting people, helping people.”
Kendrick’s friends and fellow students share the same sentiment, Haynes said.
“Every time I see a new kid that is in shock or crying, I ask – ‘But are you surprised?’ And they say ‘No, I’m not surprised at all. I’m just mad because I didn’t want him to have to do it. But of course he was going to do it.’”
Haynes said she remembers Kendrick as an unfailingly kind student, who cared deeply about everyone, who tried hard in school, and who wasn’t afraid to have fun and be goofy.
“Kendrick is probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever known,” Haynes said. “He’s really quirky and sweet. And quiet, but not really. He’s one of those kids that he knows the appropriate time to be quiet, and then when it’s the appropriate time for him to just be a total dweeb, he’ll be a total dweeb.”
He was always joyful, Haynes said, and funny – as her trove of goofy videos of Kendrick prove, she said. The only time when he was not joyful was at parent-teacher conferences, Haynes recalled. Kendrick tried hard in school, and he loved technology and excelled at science – but math was harder for him, she said.
“He would get so serious at parent-teacher conferences because he struggled academically and…most middle school kids put blame on other people, but he just always took the responsibility so seriously that he would cry,” she recalled.
“And we would tell him, ‘You don’t need to cry! We just want you to turn in your work.’ And he’d be like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ He really was such a deep thinker even if he didn’t look like it, because he was so jolly. He had this joy that shone through.”
Sr. Loretta Gerk was another teacher who knew Kendrick while he was a student at Notre Dame Catholic School – she taught him in physical education classes, from Kindergarten through eighth grade.
“He was the neatest kid,” Gerk told CNA. “He was so kind and gentle, but yet, he was all boy too, you know what I mean?”
Gerk said that she would sometimes worry about the kind and gentle students, because they could be prone to teasing. But no one ever teased or made fun of Kendrick – he was just too likeable, she said.
“Kids are sometimes cruel to each other,” she said. “But the kids weren’t mean to him. You couldn’t be mean to him.”
“If any little kids were crying or something, he would go talk to them. He would reach out to them. He would notice those things,” Gerk said.
Read more at Catholic News Agency.