STEM shooting hero remembered for his unwavering kindness and faith

He loved the outdoors. He loved technology. He loved his friends. He just plain loved.

Kendrick Castillo was a faithful, kind and caring individual whose life was tragically cut short May 7 when he heroically lunged toward a shooter that attacked STEM School Highlands Ranch and gave his life to protect his friends. He was 18 years old, and just days away from graduating high school.

The week after his death, a series of events were held in the Denver Metro and surrounding areas in remembrance of his life, culminating in a funeral Mass held May 17 at St. Mary Parish in Littleton and presided by Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez.

“Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had — family, a future, a degree, his life — so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live,” Bishop Rodriguez said in his homily. “Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big, good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure [Kendrick’s parents] John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son. God, too, is very proud of his child, Kendrick.”

Kendrick Castillo was killed in a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch May 8. His life and heroic actions have served as an inspiration for the local Catholic community, as well as the wider Colorado and national communities. Photo provided

Kendrick was an alumnus of Notre Dame Catholic School, where his dad, John, said he fit in so well. A few days after his funeral, John told the Denver Catholic he was sitting with his wife, reflecting on their son’s life and looking through his old schoolwork, when he came across an assignment where students were asked to choose their favorite saint. Kendrick chose St. John Bosco.

“I was reading and getting familiar with St. John Bosco, and it was really profound that he would’ve picked him because it’s how he lived his life,” John said. “He modeled [his life] off the saints.”

Upon graduation from Notre Dame, Kendrick went to STEM School Highlands Ranch for high school. John remembered being a little worried for his son transitioning from a Catholic school to a non-Catholic one. However, Kendrick remained true to who he was and what he learned at Notre Dame.

“He made it a point to seek out and find people that he shared his faith with there,” John said of Kendrick’s time at STEM. “[But even] those who didn’t practice religion, he was still a friend to them and would hang out with them.

“I believe he walked his faith, and I was so proud of that.”

In addition to praying before meals and always being the first to volunteer to altar serve at funeral Masses, Kendrick joyfully served with his dad in the Knights of Columbus at Notre Dame Parish. He especially loved helping out with the pancake breakfasts.

Kendrick and his dad, John, would volunteer with the Knights of Columbus at Notre Dame Parish in Denver. Photo provided

Kendrick was an only child and was very close with both of his parents. The relationship between Kendrick and John was different than a typical father and son, John said.

“It was more of a friendship than it was a father-son type thing,” John said. “We had a special bond.”

It’s because of that special bond between Kendrick and his parents that John believes he loved others the way he did – and why he didn’t hesitate when giving his life to save his fellow students during the STEM shooting.

“When you’re lucky enough to have the relationship the three of us had, you almost don’t even realize you’re doing things,” John said. “It’s not like you’re planning to raise someone a certain way. If there’s love in that family, it’s what you do.

“There’s no changing what he would do. He wouldn’t waver from doing good.”

As news broke about Kendrick’s actions, many have used the word “hero” to describe him.  John feels very proud of his son’s act of heroism, but he said that it’s the way that Kendrick lived his life that he’s most proud of.

Kendrick poses with his mom, Maria. Kendrick was an only child who was very close with his parents. Photo provided

“I believe God used him for what he needs him for. He was a tool, a faithful follower…he saved his friends,” John said. “The fact that he did what was in his heart for his friends is more powerful to me than that word ‘hero.’ It really represents who he was.”

The pain that John and Maria are bearing is a pain that will never go away. “It’s a really tough thing,” John said through tears. “Kendrick is the most devout, holy person I’ve ever known. He was a beautiful spirit. He was my strength.”

As unbearable as the pain is, John and Maria rest in the confidence that Kendrick is enjoying eternal life in heaven and that they will be reunited with him there.

“I truly believe in my heart that Kendrick was on loan to my wife and I,” John said. “I think he’s with his true father.”

Featured image by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”