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Editorial: Acts of heroism, kindness supply hope amid grief

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For many years, we watched from our office windows as the students at STEM High School Highlands Ranch left school for the day or headed over to the Starbucks across the street. The school is in the business complex right behind our former office on Highlands Ranch Parkway.

Our Highlands Ranch reporter often walked down the street to interview students and teachers about the latest innovative program on which they were working. One of those stories included Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old killed as he bravely and selflessly rushed the shooter to help protect his classmates. His face beamed with joy in a photograph that showed him at his internship, working toward his dream of becoming an engineer.

So, as our team of journalists rushed to the scene of the May 7 shooting, the feeling was surreal. We were as stunned and as heartbroken as our community.

This was the third school shooting in the metro area in 20 years, after Columbine in 1999 and Arapahoe in 2013. The three schools are within a 10-mile span of each other, their tragic events seeming to encapsulate reverberating and undulating waves of sorrow that carry the same despairing question, this time asked by a STEM parent: “How in the world could this happen?”

The cycle seemingly repeats itself: The coming days and weeks will disclose more details and explanations. There will be renewed focus on the importance of mental health, gun control and school culture. There will be more talk about the need to provide more resources, more support, to make change that makes a definitive difference.

All of that is important. But today, this week, we grieve.

We grieve for the light and the gift lost in Kendrick Castillo. For the eight other students injured. For the hundreds of students, teachers, administrators and parents whose lives — and outlook on life — are forever altered.

We grieve for the two teenagers — and their families — who are suspected in the shooting.

We grieve for our community and, really, our world, battered by violence that comes in so many different ways, without warning or respect for boundary.

Still, evidence of humanity’s heart reminds us not all is lost, and that in difficult times, hope remains.

Last week, there were the first responders who rushed from all over the metro area. Some 79 vehicles, 148 fire and medical personnel, and three medical helicopters converged in the shooting’s immediate aftermath with one thought in mind — to help our young people.

There were residents, local stores and churches that immediately gave what was needed to help.

There was the restaurant that sheltered children and kept them safe. The students who fought for their right to mourn without politics.

And there was Kendrick Castillo who, with two other students who survived, fought the suspected shooter. Faced with a life-or-death decision, they chose life for those around them before themselves.

John Castillo, Kendrick’s father, says now is not the time to issue blame and recriminations. Solutions are simpler, he says: “We have to be better people. If you are going to have kids in this world, you need to be all in.”

Mike Shallenberger, Kendrick’s engineering teacher, believes we could change much in this world by putting down our phones and being present in the moment.

“We just need,” he says, “to love each other.”

Like Kendrick Castillo did.

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