By Nick Puckett and Ellis Arnold
When Doug Till saw the television news about a Jeep processional to honor Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old who died while trying to protect other students during a shooting at his school, he decided he had to pay his respects.
"Our society is getting to where we have to lay down our lives to protect other people," said Till, who lives in Arizona but was visiting in Westminster, "and that’s what Kendrick did."
About 250 Jeep enthusiasts gathered in Highlands Ranch on May 15 to ride in a procession ahead of a celebration of life service for Castillo.
Vehicles came from outside the metro area, with some having Arizona, Wyoming and Utah license plates, to honor the teen killed in the May 7 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting. He was one of three STEM students who reportedly subdued one of the shooting suspects.
Castillo was passionate about his green Jeep Cherokee and enjoyed working on cars, friends say.
"There’s probably 2 percent (of participants) that know the family, let alone Kendrick, but that’s what this Jeep community is about," said Doug McDowell of Highlands Ranch. "For me, it's for the family."
The Jeep lovers gathered at a spot about a mile away from Cherry Hills Communiity Church, where the celebration of life was to take place in the early afternoon. The Jeeps were escorted by Douglas County Sheriff's Office deputies on their ride to the church.
It's rare that a civilian receives a processional led by law enforcement, but officials said Castillo embodied the spirit of the officers by giving his life to protect others.
"For us, our sheriff wanted to honor Kendrick and the school, because it’s what we do. We’re here to protect people," said Tim Ralph, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office chaplain. "We have to say thank you."
About 20 students from Valor Christian High School — just across the street — walked over to line Grace Boulevard before the processional.
Bendor Shallow and Connor LeFebre, Valor sophomores, were among them.
We wanted to show "love in this community in the face of all this tragedy," said Shallow, standing beside a guitar-playing LeFebre, who sang songs of faith.
Said LeFebre: "God's going to be there in the darkest times."