The first-ever Heroes Gala was hosted on Sept. 21 at the Botanical Gardens Chatfield Farms. Local law enforcement and fire departments were honored. The Fallen Hero award was given to Kendrick Castillo.
Four years after Kendrick Castillo was killed in the shooting at STEM Schools Highlands Ranch as he lunged at a shooter to protect fellow students, Douglas County still has not forgotten. Showing what Kendrick’s heroics that day still mean to the community, Kendrick was honored with the inaugural Fallen Hero award during the first-ever Heroes Gala.
The event, held by the Douglas County Community Foundation, honored local heroes from law enforcement, fire departments and dispatch.
However, the main award of the night was given to a young man who had never had any training in law enforcement. Instead, he just used instincts.
Capt. Joe White of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said Kendrick’s actions that day in 2019 “forever changed our lives and showed us what it really meant to be a hero. His bravery was not a result of training but a testament of character. He gave his life to save others.”
Kendrick’s parents, John and Maria, appeared both in video and in person during the ceremony. In a tribute video, the couple said their son was always happy as they described his childhood and the last morning with him when he drove away for the final time.
In accepting the award on behalf of his son, John Castillo said his family supports, respects and values law enforcement, adding that he and his wife continue to take what happened to their son to help and educate others.
“Live every day to its fullest,” John Castillo said. “(Kenrick) gave everything and I thank you for honoring him.”
John Castillo also said Kendrick was not the only hero that day, crediting his classmates who also charged the student gunman to save lives. Kendrick’s friend, Joshua Jones, also attended the gala to honor his friend.
Several other awards were presented during the inaugural gala on Sept. 21.
Keara Martin, a dispatcher for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, was recognized for what she did in taking one call last year. In playing the audio, Martin received a 911 call where a woman said her husband had found out his daughter was sexually assaulted by a man. The woman asked for help, saying her husband was headed to that man’s house to hurt him.
Martin called the father. Using empathy, she told the man she understood his feelings and anger but stressed it would do his daughter no good if he went through with going to the suspect’s home. The man was two minutes away from the home when Martin got through to him and convinced him to stop and wait for deputies.
In accepting the award, Martin credited the work of all call dispatchers, adding that she was meant to get that call that day.
In fire and rescue, CJ Bailes with South Metro Fire Rescue was honored for his leadership that took place in June when a tornado suddenly swept through Highlands Ranch.
As the storm came through, the South Metro dispatch center received 269 calls, more than double a normal day.
Officials said Bailes led his team through the day, taking calls and getting help to those in need.
In accepting the award, Bailes gave credit to his team and the entire department, noting that people in the finance department and elsewhere stepped in to provide assistance to all the citizens in need of help that day.
In another emotional part of the night, the SRO of the Year award was presented to Jeff Cisclo, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. In a video tribute, a student’s voice could be heard reading a letter written to thank Cisclo.
The student explained that at Mountain View High School last year, her friends found her in the bathroom trying to cut her wrist. She said she promised counselors and other school administrators that day that she did not need help and was not going to commit suicide.
She said she made those promises knowing she would leave the school and was going to try again that night.
However, she somehow got sent to Cisclo’s office, where he talked to her about the importance of getting help and how much her family would rather see her get help.
“Indirectly, you saved my life that day,” the student said.
The inaugural gala drew a crowd of more than 600 people, where an auction was held to collect funding to help support emergency services.
Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said for every dollar up to $200,000 that the audience gave, the county would match it.
“In Douglas County we do not defund the police, we fund them,” Laydon said to a cheering audience. “Here we back the blue.”