‘He was a great person’: Hundreds hold vigil and march for murdered Philando Castile

As St Paul, Minnesota, reeled from the killing of Philando Castile by a police officer Wednesday, word began to spread about how the ‘gentle spirit’, known to kids as ‘Mr Phil,’ touched their lives.

Castile, 32, whose death at the hands of a Minnesota cop during a routine traffic stop was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, oversaw the cafeteria at JJ Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.

It was there that hundreds gathered on Thursday evening, surrounding a flag at half-staff, to remember a man who was beloved by students, parents, colleagues and friends alike.

‘I want his name respected,’ ex-principal Katherine Holmquist-Burks, who hired Castile, said earlier on Thursday. ‘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.’

Vigil: A flag flew at half-staff outside JJ Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, where members of the community gathered to remember Philando Castile, who was shot dead by a cop Wednesday during a traffic stop

'Assassination': Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds (pictured), who live-streamed his death while the cop who shot him pointed a gun at her, spoke at the vigil, saying black men were being 'assassinated'

Shooter: Officer Jeronimo Yanez (pictured) was identified as the cop who shot Philando Castile Wednesday when a traffic stop for a faulty tail light went badly wrong. The aftermath was live-streamed on Facebook

‘He stood out because he was happy, friendly and related to people well,’ said the former principal, who retired last week.

Holmquist-Burks employed Castile at JJ Hill in 2014, and he quickly became known as ‘Mr Phil’ to the kids at the school, to whom he would sneak extra Graham crackers and treats.

He always gave you a high-five after lunch,’ nine-year-old Jas Gilman said.

He also memorized the names of all 530 students at the school, one colleague told TIME.

‘He remembered their names. He remembered who couldn’t have milk. He knew what they could have to eat and what they couldn’t,’ Joan Edman, 62, a recently retired paraprofessional at JJ Hill said.

She added that he ‘was much a teacher than any teacher in that building,’ and that he had instructed kids on being respectful and not stealing. ‘We had a calmer cafeteria this year, and I think it was because he was there.’

Much of his respect came from his relaxed demeanor in the cafeteria, she said. ‘I think he did that for kids. Kids watch everything, and they saw that.

‘He had so much going for him. He didn’t have an axe to grind. It just doesn’t make sense. This is a real person. Five hundred real children are directly impacted.’

March: After the vigil, some marched through St. Paul, protesting the death of the school cafeteria supervisor. Friends and colleagues recalled Castile as a gentle soul who remembered the names of all 530 kids there

Some of those children – along with their parents and other members of the community – gathered in a vigil at the school Thursday evening, beneath ominous grey clouds.

Speaking to the crowd, Castile’s mother, Valerie, said: ‘Our nation is in trouble. Our black children are on the endangered species list. Believe it or not, we are.

‘They’ve been trying to kill us from a long time ago. So we need to stick together.’

She thanked the crowd for gathering, noting that not everyone knew her son, but if they had, ‘you would have loved him’.

Children in the crowd stooped to write white placards telling how ‘Mr Phil’ had helped them.

‘Phil took time to help a kid with a disability get from breakfast to class – regularly’ said one boy’s sign.

‘Phil gave me a hug when I was feeling down,’ a little girl wrote.

‘He loved those kids so much,’ teacher Anna Garnaas said at a vigil for Castile outside the school Thursday evening. ‘And he will be so missed, by the people who got to work with him every day.’

Missed: Castile helped kids learn about respect and not stealing, one colleague said   Teacher: She added that he was 'as much a teacher' as anyone else at the school

Another man who spoke to the crowd said Castile ‘was one of the good guys… I watched him calm children down. Someone raised this man right.’

Castile’s girlfriend Reynolds was also in attendance, giving out a warning: ‘I’d like to say to everybody tonight that our police are not here to protect us and they are not here to serve us.

‘Our police have personal problems and they are out here killing off our black men, assassinating our black men, and taking them away.’

After the gathering, a portion of the group left to march through the streets, holding signs demanding justice for the victim.

‘Philando took care of our kids,’ one woman’s sign wrote. ‘Why didn’t we take care of him?’

Justice: The marchers held signs reading 'Shame' and 'Justice for Philando.' At the vigil, children had held signs saying what 'Mr Phil' had done for them - such as helping a disabled boy get breakfast regularly

Other people spoke of the impact Castile had on their lives Thursday.

Donn O’Malley, chair of the JJ Hill Parent Teacher Organization, told NBC News: ‘When I saw the news this morning and told my children about it, they were sad, confused and immediately started sharing with me how great Phil was.’

‘He was a fixture,’ Andrew Karre, whose eight-year-old son attends the school, told TIME. ‘I was always happy to see him around school. The cafeteria was a pretty happy place. He was part of the community and an important one.

‘He was just a nice, caring person who worked at the school, who should not be dead.’

Other colleagues of Castile’s described him as a team player who got along well with everyone.

‘We’re all just so surprised,’ said teacher Amy Hinrichs, who said she spoke with Castile every day when he came in at 6:30am to set up the school’s breakfast.

‘He was the calmest, nicest man. He was generous, kind. He remembered all the kids’ allergies. He was never a complainer.’

Edman agreed: ‘This was a real guy. He made a real contribution. Yes, black lives matter. But this man mattered.’

Castile graduated from Central High School in St. Paul in 2001 and joined the school district’s Nutrition Services Department when he was 19. He worked at two schools before getting his promotion at JJ Hill in 2014.

Holmquist-Burks, who retired last week, said Castile loved his job and never missed work or drew a complaint.

He helped ‘create a warm, welcoming friendly environment in our cafeteria,’ she said.

According to Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, said he was shot by an Asian police officer after he reached for his ID and license. He had a permit to carry a firearm and had informed the officer of that fact, she said.

Castile got a license to carry a firearm ‘for safety,’ said his cousin, Dewanda Harris, 52.

Harris, of Glendale, Arizona, said she watched Castile grow up in St. Paul alongside her son, who was about the same age.

Of the gun, she said: ‘I discussed it with my son and he began to tell me about them going to the gun range. All of them got licenses to carry,’ Harris said of Castile and other family members.

‘All of them do. They got it to protect themselves.’

Harris said Castile would not have posed a threat.

‘I know he was doing the right thing. Phil was a good kid. I’m stunned by this,’ she said.

Governor: Earlier Thursday Minnesota Gov Mark Dayton (right) spoke to Diamond Reynolds (second from left, in sunglasses) and Castile's uncle (far left) outside the Governor's Mansion

Source: The DailyMail

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