Everyday Heroes: Teen who gave life to save classmates long known as hero

Even before he died saving his classmates from a shooter at his school, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo was known for going out of his way to help others.

Kendrick Castillo, a Catholic, is pictured in an undated photo. The 18-year-old senior at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado lost his life May 7, 2019, trying to protect fellow students from a shooter. Castillo’s heroism, both that day and throughout his life, is celebrated as part of the Knights of Columbus video series, “Everyday Heroes,” which tells the stories of ordinary Catholic men taking extraordinary actions. (CNS photo/Knights of Columbus)

Last May, the nation learned about this young man from Colorado, who gave his life to save others, and he was hailed as a hero. But those who knew Kendrick Castillo saw him as heroic long before then. They witnessed his heroics in small acts of kindness and the way that he lived his life: unafraid to try new things; unapologetic about how much he cared; unwavering in his commitment to his Catholic faith.

There was that day he jumped out of a car to assist an elderly person who had stumbled in the street. And that time he volunteered to help carry the casket at a funeral when he noticed that there were not enough pallbearers.

Kendrick Castillo’s heroism — both on the day he died as a STEM School Highlands Ranch high school senior and throughout his life — is celebrated as part of the Knights of Columbus video series, “Everyday Heroes,” which tells the stories of ordinary Catholic men acting extraordinarily. In this episode, viewers can gain a better understanding of who Kendrick was.

Kendrick’s father, John Castillo, said his son was not the type of kid to believe he could not do something, even throwing himself into a pool just to teach himself how to swim. And he fearlessly brought love and faith with him everywhere he went.

“He prayed over meals at fast-food restaurants or wherever he was at,” John Castillo said. “He prayed with his friends. He prayed the rosary when he felt the need. I never pried and asked when and why he did it, but he would pray.”

At Notre Dame Catholic School, which Kendrick Castillo attended from pre-K to eighth grade, principal Charlene Molis asked him to deliver speeches to the entire school and even on behalf of the Catholic Appeal for the Archdiocese of Denver. Molis remembered the love Castillo had for others.

“On the first day of school, he walked into the classroom and there was a little boy crying across the room,” she said. “He went over, put his arm around him, and told him it was going to be OK. That little boy was missing his mom. I think that was just the beginning of Kendrick’s amazing kindness that he displayed.”

Kendrick Castillo reached out to everyone with no exceptions. His love inspired those around him, and when his father became a member of the Knights of Columbus, he shared his love through their work, too.

“Every time we had pancake breakfasts, or we were doing a cookout, or a yard sale that we’re having to raise funds, Kendrick was involved,” John Castillo said. “The more he got involved, the more my brother Knights just embraced him. That’s how it all began.”

The Castillos said the Knights became part of the family. Kendrick Castillo’s work with the council as a youth inspired him to want to become a Knight like his dad.

As John Castillo tells it, Kendrick centered his life on faith, even with his other interests, like robotics and four-wheeling with his friends.

His dream was to become an engineer. He also was looking forward to becoming a Knight of Columbus after he turned 18 last March. Although Kendrick did not live to see his dream of becoming a Knight realized, his parents were there in Minneapolis in August when delegates at the annual Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in Minneapolis voted to make Kendrick Castillo a Knight posthumously.

“He was the catalyst,” John Castillo said. “And that love brought people together.”