Following the Colorado STEM School Shooting, Classmates Remember Hero Kendrick Castillo
It was the bravery of students like Kendrick that allowed for other kids to escape, says his classmates, and the reason more people did not die that day. The day after the shooting, students attended a vigil at Highlands Ranch High School where they hoped to honor their fallen classmate.
“I expected to talk about Kendrick,” Ceyda says. “Instead, there were a few guys talking about gun laws.”
While many STEM students interviewed by Teen Vogue for this piece did have strong opinions about gun policy, they say what they needed most in the aftermath of their tragedy is support.
At the vigil, they watched as students from other schools and elected officials called for political action, but when STEM students tried to step up to the microphone, they say, they faced pushback from organizers.
Multiple eyewitnesses tell Teen Vogue that one speaker said they had tried to recruit STEM students to speak at the event but could not find any to do so. However, there were hundreds of STEM students at the event who lined up to speak, eyewitnesses tell Teen Vogue. After prolonged waiting, and growing tensions while politicians spoke instead, the students walked out.
Isis Trujillo, 14, a freshman at STEM, says she and other students walked out of the vigil and held their own makeshift ceremony outside. Multiple students tell Teen Vogue they placed a drawing of Kendrick on a bench, surrounded by flowers. They held up their cell phone lights like candles. They chanted Kendrick’s name, as well as “We are STEM!”
“We all grieve differently,” Peyton Hengen, a STEM School senior and Kendrick’s longtime friend, tells Teen Vogue. “Some of us need food. Some of us need to sleep. Some of us need to get up and exercise. We just need to know people are going to be there for us without necessarily forcing us into a position of advocacy.”
But most of all, Peyton tells Teen Vogue, “we need each other.”
Vigil organizers from the Brady Campaign issued an apology in response to the backlash. “We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring, and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate,” they said.
On Friday, students held an event at a local park. This time, the event was not for parents, press, politicians or other schools. Unlike the vigil, the entire thing was organized by STEM students, who are in the process of organizing more events like it.
Isis tells Teen Vogue the event was “a lot happier” than the original vigil. They gave out shirts and bracelets with the tagline #STEMStrong. They played a game of kickball and Columbine High School shooting survivors came to lend an ear to the STEM survivors. After the game, students discussed how they might memorialize Kendrick.
Then, on Monday, May 13, hundreds gathered for a candlelight walk across STEM’s campus, which culminated in a speech from Kendrick’s parents. It was one of many initiatives students have planned following the shooting to bring their school together.
One of these students is Daniel, 17, a junior at the STEM school, who requested his last name not be published, citing privacy concerns. Earlier this week, Daniel booked a room at the library, brought along a gaming console, and opened the event to all STEM students.
For students like Daniel, the tragedy has brought a newfound sense of community, resilience and hope. “That kind of hope is contagious,” he says.“After the vigil…I realized I have a voice, that we have a voice,” Daniel tells Teen Vogue. “We weren’t going to let people tell our story [how they think] it should be told. We were there that day and we survived because of Kendrick and all those people ready to fight the shooter[s].”