Selfless teen killed in Colorado school shooting loved robotics, helping the elderly

People hold up the phone lights during a moment of silence at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019 as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) speaks. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Kendrick Ray Castillo, the 18-year-old who sacrificed his life to save other students during a shooting in a suburban Denver high school, loved robotics, helping the elderly in his community and making people laugh, his friend told Reuters.

Cece Bedard, who knew Castillo since elementary school, said she broke down in tears when she heard her friend had died but was not surprised at his selfless act.

“There is no doubt in my mind that he would have done anything he thought he could have to help anyone,” Bedard said on Wednesday.

Two teenagers are accused of opening fire on fellow students on Tuesday at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Denver, killing Castillo and wounding eight other students.

People listen at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

People listen at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Witnesses said Castillo, who was due to graduate in three days, charged at one of the shooters.

“Kendrick lunged at him,” senior Nui Giasolli told NBC News, referring to the older of the two shooting suspects, Devon Erickson, 18, who was being held on Wednesday on murder and attempted murder charges.

“He shot Kendrick, 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.

Fellow student, Brendan Bialy, a U.S. Marine recruit who also charged the shooter with a third student, described Castillo as an unstoppable bowling ball.

“Basically when he gets moving there’s no stopping him,” Bialy said in an interview with multiple media outlets, including Denver’s Fox News affiliate, late on Wednesday.

Bialy said his friend showed no hesitation.

Bedard said she and Castillo both volunteered with their fathers at the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s community service organization when they were in middle school.

Castillo loved tagging along with his father to volunteer with the Knights of Columbus, whether it involved carrying heavy crates of fruit for a peach drive or setting up senior lunches. He was especially good at connecting with the elderly people he served, Bedard said.

“He was always there earlier than I was and was always there later than I was,” she said.

His friends remembered Castillo as a goofy jokester, although his humor was never at anyone’s expense, Bedard said. He had a strong sense of self and did not care what other people thought of him, a trait that made him stand out among his peers.

Castillo was also a member of a regional robotics team, another community that was mourning his loss on Wednesday.

“We’re heartbroken by the death of Kendrick Castillo … Kendrick was a member of @Frc4418, of which his father is Lead Mentor,” FIRST, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing youth in STEM, said on Twitter.

Bialy said Castillo was not a victim but someone who jumped into action.

“I love that kid,” Bialy said. “He died a trooper. He got his ticket to Valhalla, and I know he will be with me for the rest of my life.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in NEW YORK; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in ATLANTA; Editing by Frank McGurty, Phil Berlowitz and Paul Tait)

Dallas Mother thanks police for shielding her and her son

A makeshift memorial at Dallas Police Headquarters one day after a lone gunman ambushed and killed five police officers at a protest decrying police shootings

DALLAS (Reuters) – When the bullet struck her leg during the protest in downtown Dallas, Shetamia Taylor’s first thoughts were for her four sons.

Taylor tackled the nearest boy to the ground then looked up to see a police officer racing to shield them from the gunfire.

“That officer jumped on top of me and covered me and my son and there was another one at our feet, and there was another one over our head,” Taylor told reporters on Sunday.

“I’m thankful for all of them, because they had no regard for their own life.”

Pushed into the news conference at Baylor University Medical Center in a wheelchair and hospital gown, Taylor wept as she recounted seeing two officers shot in front of her.

One was a tall, white, bald policeman. “As he was going down, he said, ‘He has a gun. Run,'” she recalled.

Police said a military veteran killed five officers on Thursday in a rampage that was the most deadly day for U.S. law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Taylor, 37, said when she first heard the gunfire, she thought it might be fireworks left over from Fourth of July celebrations. She said the attack left her hurt and angry.

“Why would he do that?” she asked of the gunman, identified by authorities as Micah X. Johnson, 25.

Johnson launched his ambush during a protest against the killing by police of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, one of a string of demonstrations nationwide.

Taylor had attended with her four sons, aged 12 to 17.

“I was scared, I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Jamar Taylor, 12, told reporters, breaking into sobs as he described becoming separated from his mother.

Taylor said, in her opinion, the police were not all “out to get us” and that people should reserve judgment.

“Please, just stop and think,” she said. “I tell my kids all the time, you know, ‘Closed mouth, open mind will get you a long way in life.’ Sometimes, just be quiet and think first.”

Another of her sons, Wavion Washington, hailed the officer who shielded them as they escaped.

“He was really selfless and he put himself in harm’s way … to protect us.” Washington told the news conference. “So, we understand that there are a few bad apples out there, but they don’t spoil the whole bunch.”

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)

Seattle Pacific University Hero: “God’s Grace” Saved Lives

The 22-year-old engineering student who disarmed a gunman bent on mass killing at Seattle Pacific University has broken his silence after the event, saying that God’s grace is what saved the lives of others.

Jon Meis, a building monitor at the Christian university, pepper-sprayed and then tackled 26-year-old Aaron Ybarra as he was reloading.  Other students then held down Ybarra, who was not a student at the school, until police arrived on the scene.  Police said that the gunman had a significant amount of ammunition on him and likely would have killed and wounded dozens more without Meis’ heroic actions.

“He was hellbent on killing a lot of people today,” an officer told the Seattle Times.

Meis, who had been avoiding the spotlight after the incident, finally released a statement to the press.

“I know that I am being hailed as a hero, and as many people have suggested, I find this hard to accept,” Meis wrote. “I am indeed a quiet and private individual; while I have imagined what it would be like to save a life, I never believed I would be put in such a situation. It has been deeply touching to read the comments online and realize that my actions have had such a strikingly widespread effect.”

“[W]hat I find most difficult about this situation is the devastating reality that a hero cannot come without tragedy,” Meis continued. “In the midst of this attention, we cannot ignore that a life was taken from us, ruthlessly and without justification or cause. Others were badly injured, and many more will carry this event with them the rest of their lives.”

Police say the gunman Ybarra has a history of mental illness and has been on suicide watch since the incident.  Meis has called for the community to respond to the gunman in a spirit of love.

“When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.”