School Shooting Survivors Walk Out As Vigil Organizers Politicize Their Grief
Highlands Ranch, CO – Hundreds of grieving STEM School Highlands Ranch students walked out of a vigil that was intended to honor their slain classmate on Wednesday, after the gathering turned into a gun-control rally.
Eighteen-year-old Kendrick Castillo was fatally shot on Tuesday, when he tackled one of two shooters who opened fire inside his school.
He was just three days away from graduation.
Eight of his fellow students were also wounded in the attack.
Most students were unaware that the vigil was organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, USA Today reported.
Many became frustrated when multiple speakers – including Democratic Rep. Jason Crow and Sen, Michael Bennet – were allowed to address the thousands of mourners at the vigil instead of hearing from more students, TIME reported.
Those who spoke at the event used it as an opportunity to push for gun control, according to USA Today.
“Let STEM kids speak!” someone yelled from the audience at one point, according to the Highlands Ranch Herald.
“We’re right here!” another student added.
Hundreds of people stormed out of the so-called vigil after about 30 minutes, while yelling that the event was a “political stunt,” USA Today reported.
“This is not for us!” people in the crowd yelled. “We are people, not a statement!”
Students and their supporters created their own vigil in the pouring rain outside the school, and chanted “mental health” while holding their cell phone flashlights in the air.
“Don’t use Kendrick’s name for political reasons!” one student yelled during the impromptu protest, according to the Highlands Ranch Herald.
Many of the students said that they all agreed not to speak with reporters.
“F--k the media!” they chanted. “This is not about guns!”
Some students ultimately trickled back inside at the behest of event organizers, and the microphone was handed off to what became a long line of students eager to share their thoughts and memories.
“We wanted Kendrick to be mourned. We wanted all of you to join us in that mourning, but that was not allowed here,” one boy told the audience, according to TIME.
“We all walked out. We were not kicked out, despite what you have heard," he added. "We are back now to tell you that we love Kendrick, and we love all of the survivors.”
The group also observed a moment of silence for Castillo and the STEM school, the Highlands Ranch Herald reported.
The attack began just before 2 p.m. in the STEM middle school area, where as many as 700 students were attending classes. A total of approximately 1,800 elementary, middle school, and high school students attend STEM School Highlands Ranch, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said during a press conference.
Police were notified about the active shooter situation by a school administrator, and the two shooters were still firing when officers arrived at the scene less than two minutes later.
“Once inside the school, they immediately engaged the suspects,” Sheriff Spurlock said.
Officers did not return fire during the encounter, he added.
One of the shooters was already “restrained” by an armed private school security officer when law enforcement arrived at the scene, the sheriff said.
STEM student Nui Giasolli told Today that she was in her ninth period British literature class when one of her classmates showed up late.
Soon thereafter, the classmate pulled out a gun and told everyone not to move, she said.
That’s when Castillo “lunged” at him, according to Giasolli.
His heroic act gave “all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” Giasolli explained.
Castillo died at the scene.
He would have graduated from the school in three days, Sheriff Spurlock said.
A group of students ultimately tackled the gunman to the ground and disarmed him, NBC News reported.
Brandan Baily, a high school senior who plans to join the Marine Corps, was among the group that fought back against the gunman.
“They were very heroic,” Giasolli told Today. “I can’t thank them enough.”
STEM senior Logan Griffith spoke with reporters briefly as the vigil dissipated on Wednesday night, the Highlands Ranch Herald reported.
“I think I speak for STEM when I say we do thank Highlands Ranch High School for hosting this,” Griffith said. “However, this was for Kendrick Castillo. Not for our senator, not for anyone else.”
Griffith said that the students’ walkout should serve “as a statement to keep the politics where they belong…in Congress.”
The Brady Campaign soon issued a statement apologizing for how the event unraveled, USA Today reported.
"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 and which we know is so crucial to communities who suffer the trauma of gun violence," the statement read.