Students and parents walked out of a planned vigil for STEM School Highlands Ranch students Wednesday, when they said the conversation turned into political theater.
About 2,000 people packed the Highlands Ranch High School gym to remember 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was shot and killed trying to tackle one of the shooters at STEM School Highlands Ranch on Tuesday. Authorities have credited Castillo and two classmates with thwarting the attack.
Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jason Crow, whose congressional district includes STEM, spoke about the need for gun control. The vigil dissolved as STEM students walked out to the parking lot, holding up lighted cellphones and yelling expletives at the media.
“What has happened at STEM is awful, but it’s not a statistic,” one student told the crowd. “We can’t be used [as] a reason for gun control, we are people, not a statement.”
The crowd cheered loudly in response.
“This was not a vigil. This was purely a political stunt. This is not what we wanted for Kendrick,” said another student.
“We didn’t want Kendrick to be a prop. We wanted Kendrick to be mourned, we wanted all of you to join us in that mourning, but that was not allowed here.”
When students did get a chance to talk about the victims, they shared stories about Castillo.
“We are mourning the loss of our best friend, our brother, Kendrick Castillo,” one student said.
“He’s somebody that cared for everybody, somebody who was always there, that could fix any problem. Whether that was with his hammer, or with his words, he was there. He was somebody we all loved, and somebody that was so kind that he was willing to sacrifice his own life for ours. And we are forever grateful.”
Students associated with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence organized the vigil, held at nearby Highlands Ranch High School.