There has been a debate in law enforcement circles for several years about the best response to the all-too-frequent situations involving armed attacks on schools. The emerging consensus seems to support immediate and direct intervention even at the risk of death for those brave enough to do so. This month I am honoring two true heroes: one who lived, and one who died, to save innocent students.
Keanon Lowe was a former football standout: first at the University of Oregon (a star wide receiver from 2011-2014), and then as an offensive analyst for the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Keanon then decided to pursue a career in education. This brought him to Parkrose High School in Portland, Oregon, where he served as football and track coach and also worked the security detail.
On May 18th, a distraught and unhinged 18-year-old appeared at the door of his high school government class, wearing a black trench coat which concealed a gun. Fortunately, two students had reported him to staff for “concerning behavior” shortly before that incident, and Lowe (who had been looking for the distraught student) came running and quickly disarmed him. No one was injured. A hero and a happy ending.
Kendrick Castillo was a high school student in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his fellow students. On May 7th, two deeply troubled young students decided to engage in an armed assault on their own high school, and targeted Kendrick’s English Literature class. As multiple rounds were fired, Kendrick sprang to action, confronted the shooter, and wrestled the gun from his hands, though he himself was shot multiple times at very close range. Several other classmates, following Kendrick’s lead, tackled both assailants to the ground; they suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries. The police arrived in less than two minutes to find the attack had already been thwarted by Kendrick and his classmates. As a result of Kendrick’s heroism, no other fatalities occurred.
Kendrick was an exceptional young man in so many ways. He was just 18, the son of an a adjunct teacher of robotics, and an only child, a star student, a gentle and loving kid whom his classmates revered for never saying an unkind word to anyone. Kendrick was also the grandson of a Marine; Kendrick’s father said he “wanted to emulate his grandfather’s service in his own life.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department was so moved by Kendrick’s quick thinking and heroism that they created an exception to their rules and asked other Colorado law enforcement agencies to join them in a motorcycle procession for Kendrick’s funeral. Kendrick was the first civilian to ever receive this tribute because, as the Sheriff’s Department said, “We wanted to honor the Castillo family and honor Kendrick.”
Two heroes, two split-second decisions to risk their own lives to save others. As in battle, the decisions that must be made without the opportunity for reflection are the ones where the true measure of a person’s courage is tested. Without having any law enforcement or military training, Keanon and Kendrick proved to be the very best people, at the right time and right place to save others. Because of their actions, many innocents were spared.
We are so lucky as a country to have such great people. It is nevertheless sad to contemplate what Kendrick would have undoubtedly contributed to society had he lived. Our deepest condolences to his family. — Jim