A vigil for school shooting victim Kendrick Castillo, who died while trying to stop two gunmen from STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, broke out into cries of protest when high school students accused some speakers at the vigil of exploiting their grief for political ends.
On Wednesday evening, nearly 1,000 parents, teachers, and students showed up outside nearby Highlands Ranch High School to honor Castillo, 18, an avid hunter and fisherman who died while trying to intervene. Castillo’s father later told the media that his son had thrown himself in front of the gunman to save other students.
At one point, Sen. Michael Bennet, who is running for president, and Rep. Jason Crow spoke, calling for increased gun control legislation. The speeches prompted outcry from some members of the crowd, who accused the politicians of exploiting the event to further their own agenda. Some members of the crowd even chanted, “Mental health,” an allusion to the position that mental health resources should be just as much of a political priority as calling for tighter gun control laws. Some of the students shouted “Don’t use Kendrick’s name for political reasons!,” as well as “Fuck the media,” with a few walking out of the vigil.
The student protests stand in stark contrast to the reaction among the student body at Parkland High School in Florida, where a former student took the lives of 17 people in February of last year. Many Parkland students took highly visible activist roles, organizing protests such as the March for Our Lives campaign and calling for more stringent gun control legislation. Their activism has been credited with helping to spur gun control legislation across the country, with 26 states and Washington, D.C. passing nearly 67 new gun laws in the last year alone.
Eight students were injured and one student was killed in the shooting at STEM Highlands Ranch High School, which is the fourth school shooting in Colorado since the attack on Columbine High School 20 years ago. Two suspects, Devon Erickson, 18, and Alec McKinney, 16, have been arrested in connection with the shooting. Neither have been formally charged, although 18th judicial district attorney George Brauchler has suggested to CNN that they will both likely face first-degree murder and attempted murder charges.
Castillo, an avid hunter and fisherman with a passion for robotics, and three other students have been credited with helping to prevent the shooters from taking even more lives. Brendan Bialy, one of the other students who helped disarm the shooter, said that Castillo took an “immediate jump into action” and rushed to block him the moment he took out a gun. “The gunman was there and then he was against the wall and didn’t know what the hell hit him,” Bialy told CNN.