The immediate and cynical exploitation of a school shooting by advocates of gun restrictions has rarely, if ever, been so effectively denounced.
On Wednesday, the day after the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, students and others assembled for an event organized by a student affiliate of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. It was billed as a candlelight vigil to remember student Kendrick Castillo, 18, who was killed when he rushed the shooter to try to stop him.
To the students’ anguish and chagrin, the “vigil” turned out to be almost entirely about the politics of “gun control,” with activists and politicians doing the speaking. The students, I think, appreciated, as many adults have yet to do, the importance of the heroism Kendrick and three other students had shown.
The 18-year-old was watching “The Princess Bride” in his British literature class when the shooter pulled out a gun, demanding that nobody moved. After Kendrick lunged at the shooter, three other students also tackled the gunman and tried to subdue him while the rest of the class fled the room.
It probably wasn’t only dumb grief they hoped to let out. It was also the vindication and hope that come from such heroism, and connecting the memory of who Kendrick Castillo was to it. The students were of a mind to connect to life, and the sometimes inexpressible pain of its rights, wrongs, and tragedies, rather than simply frame everything soullessly in terms of a political agenda.
The students expected to have a human event, and instead they got a political one.
So in the middle of it, they walked out.
After about 30 minutes, hundreds of students from the STEM School stormed out yelling “this is not for us,” “political stunt” and “we are people, not a statement.” …
Wednesday night, the traumatized shooting survivors who exited the rally thrust lighted cellphones into the air and chanted “mental health, mental health,” as their hands and voices shook in the cold rain. Angry students pushed and screamed at journalists, demanding to see photos they had taken.
The students felt exploited by the journalists as much as by the activists running what turned out to be a “gun-control” rally. And they weren’t having it.
Reporter Trevor Hughes was there covering the event and sent this tweet.
Frustrated, crying and angry, #STEMschool shooting victims hold an impromptu vigil in the rain Wednesday after leaving a gun-control vigil they felt inappropriately politicized their trauma. (They asked that I not photograph their faces close up, and I respected their wishes.) pic.twitter.com/cksRXGtYQA
— Trevor Hughes (@TrevorHughes) May 9, 2019
What’s important about this is to understand that activists who strike up the band immediately for a gun-restriction agenda are not, in fact, speaking for the victims. They can’t claim to be doing that, and thereby purport to occupy the moral high ground.
The students demonstrated that powerfully by chanting “mental health!” — which I suspect were the only terms they had ready to hand for the most profound truth they sense in their spirits. Their point was not, I think, about the Second Amendment, and distinguishing the concern for mental health from it as a policy issue. That may have been the point for some of them, but I doubt it was for most.
Rather, chanting “mental health” was about a visceral sense that there’s a sickness in the soul of their time: the community, the society, the country around them. They feel stalked and alarmed by it. It’s not about guns or not-guns. That’s political reductionism, exploited for someone else’s agenda. Guns are fashioned artifacts. The problem lies in us.
These kids have just been faced with that gouge to the spirit, administered by industrial-scale machinery. It takes time to get balance back and soldier on.
In the meantime, let us remember Kendrick Castillo, taken from his family and all of us far sooner than we would have wanted.
“I know that because of what he did, others are alive, and I thank God for that. I love him. And he is a hero and he always will be,” his dad, John Castillo, said.
“He just loved people that much.”
Kendrick grew up speaking English and Spanish in suburban Denver and first attended Catholic school. He would also spend time fishing and camping with his late grandfather — who had been in the Marines.
“Kendrick was proud of him, proud that his grandfather was a hero,” Castillo said. “Part of me knows that Kendrick wanted to live that legacy.”
The teenager had kept the flag that once draped his grandfather’s casket close to him and would pray and kiss his tombstone at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
Kendrick was about a foot away from the shooter and he immediately sprang into action, said Brendan Bialy, one of other students who jumped the gunman.
“Kendrick Castillo died a legend. He died a trooper,” Bialy said. “I know he will be with me for the rest of my life.”
“I refused to be a victim. Kendrick refused to be a victim. The other students refused to be a victim,” he said.