As the St. Paul community mourns the death of Philando Castile, those who truly knew the man mourn the loss of “the gentle spirit” that people knew, and loved so well.
He was known as “Mr. Phil” at the JJ Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, where he worked in the cafeteria, and it was at that school that hundreds gathered on Thursday evening to hold a vigil in the 32-year-old man’s memory.
“I want his name respected,” ex-principal Katherine Holmquist-Burks said on Thursday, as the school’s flag flew at half-mast. “He was not a bad person. He was a great person. He was a warm person and a gentle spirit. This was a tragedy that he was murdered.”
Students also remembered the man that they knew and loved so well. Jas Gillman remembered how Castile “used to give you fist bumps, used to give you extra food when you were at the end of the lunch line." Another student told KMSP-TV that Castile would often comfort students when he noticed that they were feeling down. “He was really nice to everyone and he was one of the kindest people in the whole school,” they said.
A co-worker added, “Kids loved him. He was smart, over-qualified. He was quiet, respectful and kind. I knew him as warm and funny; he called me his ‘wing man.’ He wore a shirt and tie to his supervisor interview and said his goal was to one day ‘sit on the other side of this table.’”
As the community mourned the loss of a great man who was loved by so many, his mother, Valerie Castile, told the crowd, “Our nation is in trouble. Our Black children are on the endangered species list. Believe it or not, we are.” She also thanked the crowd, saying that while everyone at the vigil may not have known her son, if they had, “You would have loved him.”
Now the community and the school has to continue to express their sadness, their shock and their anger to ensure that Castile’s death, and his memory, work toward a better, more peaceful and loving future, as Philando would have wanted.
(Photos from top: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, Philando Castile via Facebook)