DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Kendrick Castillo was killed while saving countless lives at STEM School Highlands Ranch, as he rushed a school shooter on May 7, 2019. Almost four years later, his parents are pushing to publicize confidential information related to the shooting, which they say will help with school safety.
“We're fighting to share the truth about what led up to the STEM School shooting and create transparency for all schools," said Kendrick's father, John Castillo.
However, those with STEM School Highlands Ranch and the Douglas County School District say releasing all of that confidential information could jeopardize the safety of students and staff.
“What confidential information should remain confidential and not be disclosed to the public?” asked Gywneth Whalen, attorney for the school district. “Both sides, everybody agreed, no information that would help the bad guy.”
The court-appointed special master on the case heard from both sides Wednesday, along with witnesses, and then worked to decide what confidential information can be released to the public, if any.
The Douglas County School District was dismissed from the lawsuit, but an attorney still represented the district in court.
STEM School Shooting
Castillo's parents refuse payout, push to publicize more details about case
In a lawsuit filed by the Castillos in 2021, the family alleges that STEM School Highlands Ranch had a duty to maintain a safe environment for the students because of the Claire Davis School Safety Act. The suit claims the school breached that duty in a number of ways, causing the wrongful death of Kendrick.
“Through the Claire Davis School Safety Act and the ability to get discovery [evidence], we have found out information that we want to share. And confidentiality is keeping us from doing that," said John.
Some of the breaches listed in the lawsuit include the school failing to take steps necessary to protect the school and their students from a school shooting, and failing to adequately investigate warnings about the planned attack.
A new complaint filed in February shows the school renewed its request from summer 2021 to dismiss the case. The motion was granted, and STEM School Highlands Ranch was ordered to pay $387,000 to the Castillo family. The money does not mean the school has "admitted liability or confessed judgment," but once the funds are deposited, the Castillo's claims become moot and a trial would be vacated.
The Castillos refused the money taking the case to the special master on Wednesday. One of the people who testified in the courtroom was Michael Davis, the father of Claire Davis.
Claire was murdered inside of Arapahoe High School in late 2013. A report aimed at understanding the school’s threat and risk assessment programs found many small errors and missed opportunities where the school could have intervened with the gunman before the shooting.
Arapahoe H.S. shooting report lists many errors
“We started investigating and learned that schools don’t have to disclose anything. They’re protected by governmental immunity," Michael testified. "We thought the only way to fix this, we obviously can’t sue the school, we’ll change the law.”
Michael said the intent of the law named after his daughter was to disclose information following a school tragedy and make it public in order to provide it to experts and learn lessons to make schools safer.
The Castillo family said it was through this law that they were able to conduct their own investigation into the circumstances surrounding their son's murder. Their attorney, Dan Caplis, said in his closing argument it would be "an act of profound cruelty" to allow the Castillo parents to "find the truth and not be able to share it."
Those representing STEM School and the school district said they agree some information discovered by the Castillos can be made public, but want to ensure nothing is released that could be considered a road map for others who wish to commit violent acts. Attorneys said some of the information in question could undermine school safety.
The school's attorneys also said the details surrounding the shooting have been made public already through the criminal trials of the two shooters. They said there is no effort to hide any information about the shooting, unless it would endanger students or staff.
After the closing arguments, the courtroom was closed to the public. Both sides went through the information in question and discussed what could be released to the public.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a formal decision had not been made.