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JOAN VENNOCHI

Another school shooting hero, as adults leave children on their own

Mahesh Anandan picks up his children from the Northridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch, Colo., on Tuesday, following a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in which eight students were shot, one fatally.
Mahesh Anandan picks up his children from the Northridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch, Colo., on Tuesday, following a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in which eight students were shot, one fatally.Nick Cote/The New York Times

And so, another student dies a hero in a school shooting.

When children of the 1950s ducked and covered under school desks, nuclear warfare was the great fear of the era. Somehow, adults found a way to negotiate their way around that cosmic threat and protect the younger generation.

Today’s children are not so lucky. As they duck, cover, and run for their lives from school shooters, they are basically on their own. A few generations past the Cold War, we are leaving it to the young people of this country to protect themselves and others — and die trying.

Kendrick Castillo, 18, was shot and killed when he lunged at a gunman who opened fire at a charter school in Colorado, located about eight miles away from Columbine High School, which just marked the 20th anniversary of what was then the worst high school shooting in US history.

On Tuesday, at STEM School Highlands Ranch, an 18-year-old male and a girl, identified only as a juvenile, were arrested in an attack that injured eight and killed Castillo, a senior, just three days away from graduation. His father, John Castillo, told the The Denver Post that his son planned to attend community college and major in mechanical or electrical engineering. “I wish he had gone and hid, but that’s not his character. His character is about protecting people, helping people,” said Castillo about his only child. One classmate who witnessed what happened told the Today show that, after Castillo rushed him, the shooter “shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape.” At least one other student also reportedly charged the shooter.

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That same day, The New York Times reported on the heartbreaking story of Riley Howell , 21, who also died a hero when he hurled himself at a gunman who opened fire at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30. Howell, of Waynesville, N.C., was shot three times. The third bullet was fired “at point blank range into his head,” the Times reported. Like Castillo’s dad, Howell’s mother described a son who was hardwired for action and protecting others. “That was just who he was,” she said, accepting the unacceptable, because, really, what else can she do? Ellis Reed Parlier, 19, was also killed, and four others were wounded in the shooting, which took place on the final day of spring classes at UNC.

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It is cliché to say this is the new norm, but it is. Processing these shootings are now ho-hum. We ponder the type of weapon brandished and how it was obtained. At STEM School Highlands Ranch, the shooters used handguns. We pause for a moment to look at heartrending photos of kids hugging each other and clutching sobbing parents. The quotes from witnesses are now very familiar. Children are at first puzzled by the sight of classmates running. Then they hear sounds they come to recognize as gunshots, and the training they received from kindergarten clicks in. Politicians weigh in with the usual platitudes. Next comes the brain-numbing arguing between the Second Amendment gun-clingers and those who want more gun regulation. No worries, it will soon end, as attention is quickly diverted to other breaking news — the name chosen by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their newborn baby boy.

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Children of the ’50s remember the drills that were somehow supposed to protect us from an atomic bomb blast. But even with youthful skepticism came the feeling that grown-ups were working hard to find a way to keep us safe. Perhaps it was easier then to find common ground, because everyone understood the totality of nuclear destruction.

Mass shootings have infiltrated not just schools but many places we used to think of as safe harbors, including churches and synagogues. With each attack come thoughts, prayers, and resignation. We can’t agree on how to stop them or even how to try. That’s the legacy of today’s grown-ups, leaving it to our children to rush into the breach.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.