When a gunman burst into his high school classroom, Kendrick Castillo did not hesitate.
The 18-year-old immediately charged, pinning the attacker to the wall before Castillo was fatally shot protecting classmates, witnesses said. As he charged, so did two other students. One of them, Brendan Bialy, wrestled the gun from the shooter’s hand and the students subdued him.
A second shooter was captured by an armed security guard.
Authorities said these acts of bravery helped minimize the bloodshed from Tuesday’s attack, which wounded eight people.
“We are going to hear about very heroic things that have taken place at the school,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said Wednesday at a news conference.
The attackers were identified by law enforcement officials as 18-year-old Devon Erickson and a transgender 16-year-old who identifies as a boy. The Gazette is not identifying the juvenile because of his age.
Both suspects were students at the school, and they were not previously known to authorities, Spurlock said.
The two allegedly walked into STEM School Highlands Ranch through an entrance without metal detectors and opened fire in two classrooms.
Castillo sprang into action against the shooter “and immediately was on top of him with complete disregard for his own safety,” said Bialy, a close friend of Castillo.
A member of the school’s robotics club and a relentless tinkerer, Castillo had an infectious smile and gentle sense of humor, friends say. He worked part time at a local manufacturing company that had offered him a job after an internship because he was such a standout employee.
“To find he went down as a hero, I’m not surprised. That’s exactly who Kendrick was,” said Rachel Short, president of the company, Baccara.
Castillo was a senior at the STEM School and was days from graduating.
“He was the best kid in the world,” John Castillo told The Denver Post through tears Wednesday morning.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Castillo told the newspaper. “He cared enough about people that he would do something like that, even though it’s against my better judgment.
“I wish he had gone and hid,” Castillo continued, “but that’s not his character. His character is about protecting people, helping people.”
Still, Castillo said, “I had a hard time accepting that.”
Gov. Jared Polis lauded the teenager on Twitter, saying: “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.”
Cecilia Bedard, 19, had known Castillo since elementary school and said he was always friendly, modest and excited to help people. He made a point of always joining his father at Knights of Columbus fundraisers and bingo nights.
“He was amazing,” Bedard said. “He was honestly the sweetest kid I ever met. Never said a mean joke.”
Bialy smiled as he recounted the struggle with the shooter, saying that he wanted to focus on the positive. “They completely and utterly failed in a matter of half a minute,” he said of the attackers.
“What I saw yesterday was the absolute best of people,” he added.
Bialy would not identify the third student who helped subdue the gunman, but the family of Jason Jones put out a statement saying he was shot twice while disarming one of the attackers.
The security guard who detained the second armed suspect was employed by Boss High Level Protection, a company started by a former SWAT leader who responded to the Columbine shooting.
The owner, Grant Whitus, told The Associated Press the security guard is a former Marine who ran to the area of the shootings and confronted one of the armed students in a hallway.
The guard drew his weapon and apprehended the person, Whitus said.
“He doesn’t even realize how many lives he saved by stopping a school shooting,” Whitus said.
Bialy, a senior at the school, joined the Marine Corp Delayed Entry Program in July and is scheduled to report to recruit training this summer, The Post reported.
“Brendan’s courage and commitment to swiftly ending this tragic incident at the risk of his own safety is admirable and inspiring,” the Marines said, according to The Post.
“His decisive actions resulted in the safety and protection of his teachers and fellow classmates.”
Nui Giasolli, an 18-year-old senior, told The New York Times that she was in English class when one of her classmates walked in late and pulled out a gun.
“The only thing he said out loud to the students was, ‘Don’t you move,’ ” Giasolli said.
She said Castillo’s decision to lunge at the gunman gave other students time to dive under their desks or rush at the gunman, too, The Times reported. When other students tackled the gunman, she and others fled the classroom.
“I don’t have enough words,” Giasolli told The Times. “They didn’t have to risk their lives to save the 15 of us who were left.”