The father of the boy who died in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting, Kendrick Castillo, is speaking out. He says guns are part of the problem, but not the reason his son died.
Mass shootings tear families apart, long after the headlines fade. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Colorado has been connected to mass shootings. Sadly, they are only becoming more frequent.
These violent incidents happen just about every 15 days in the United States. According to the Justice Department, a mass shooting is defined as three or more people killed in a single incident, excluding the suspect.
The U.S. has the 28th highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, about 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people. Based on the country's socioeconomic status, researchers say that number should be a fraction of that, closer to 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people.
The most recent infamous school shooting in Colorado, at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, took the life of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo.
Because the shooting at Highlands Ranch claimed one life -- not three lives or more -- it's not considered a 'mass' shooting. But it could have been. Many, including Governor Jared Polis, credit Castillo with preventing the loss of more lives.
Colorado hero Kendrick Castillo lost his life saving others. Kendrick, 18, lunged towards the gunman and helped prevent an even worse tragedy. Colorado will always remember the heroism of Kendrick Castillo.https://t.co/VhlerQe768— Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) May 8, 2019
Kendrick's father, John Castillo, sat down with KRDO's Kristen Skovira.
He says that while guns are part of the problem, they're not the reason his son died. He says Kendrick was his only son and his best friend. Now, after his death, John spends his time advocating for his son and says the solution isn't just one change -- it's several small ones.
John and his wife, Maria, have kept their home in Highlands Ranch, Colorado much the same after Kendrick's death. His room is empty. But his graduation gown lays on the bed, posters cover the walls and almost everywhere are reminders of a life spent looking forward.
He says Kendrick was a kid with a constant grin.
"It was just infectious," said John.
John says his son knew he was meant for more than earth-bound things. He loved space, robotics, and engineering.
"Kendrick quickly realized that his dream of working in aerospace was more than a dream. It was reality," he said.
Kendrick was an only child, so his friends were his family and his father John was his biggest fan. He says they would text throughout the day, always in constant contact.
So on May 7, 2019, when John heard there was an active shooter on his son's STEM school campus, Kendrick's sudden silence stopped him cold.
"Maria and I knew immediately," he said. "Even though we didn't want to believe it to be true. We knew if there was one person at that school who would stand up and do something it would be Kendrick."
John rushed to the school, saw the chaos, and the relieved reunions.
"I got to the rec center and I got out of my vehicle, jumped a small fence in the neighborhood. I could see clearly that parents they were communicating with their kids," he said.
The text he was waiting for never came.
"And then, shortly after that, I got a text from one of his friends saying, 'Mr. Castillo, Kendrick rushed the shooter,'" he said.
Unsure of his condition, John and Maria raced to an area hospital. But their only son was gone.
"That's how we found out," John said through tears, "Maria was like 'Can you take us to him?' And they said, 'No, he's still part of the crime scene. He's in the school. And that's when our lives changed forever. We had to drive home in the rain, in the dark.'"
Now, they spend their days, searching for the light, seeking ways to keep Kendrick's name out front so other families never experience similar pain.
John says he's part of a group no one wants to join.
"I'm surprised when I go to the capitol to talk on school safety, how many surviving families are now advocating for things. They have a passion for it. I mean they're fighting back in a way. They're fighting back against domestic terror. And that's my label for it now," he said.
John says he is fighting against terror and fighting for a son who can no longer fight for himself.
"We think, 'Man that's a horrible event. Thank god we will never have to experience anything like that. Or it's not going to happen.' And that's the way I was. Just as many people are, I'm sure, with this event at STEM," he said.
Before this event, John and Kendrick were no stranger to guns -- both were avid hunters.
"Guns are an instrument and a tool. We're hunters and outdoors people and we have guns, that's no secret. Even though it was a bullet and a gun that took my son's life, I don't feel that if we take those things away that it's gonna improve anything," he said.
In Colorado, he's watched Columbine, the Aurora theater shooting, Planned Parenthood, and then STEM. He says that preventing these shootings start with sensible changes like limiting magazine capacity. He's also an advocate for armed staff at schools, not necessarily teachers, but something similar to U.S. Air Marshals on planes.
"There's some anonymity and no one knows who that person is," he said.
John says the focus should also be on supporting our children. He says as society we need to be better about recognizing potential red flags in young people and taking action.
"As a father, you know we only have two roles and that's to go to work and provide for our family. Love them. And protect them," he said.
He says no matter what, he'll continue to speak for his son who refused to be a victim.
"I'm his voice because he was silenced May 7th. I have to advocate for what he could've been," he said.