Hillsborough, N.C. — The mother and sister of an Orange County man charged with killing his father and shooting at his former high school three years ago testified Tuesday about his troubled family life and mental problems.
Alvaro Castillo, 22, is charged with fatally shooting his father, Rafael Huezo Castillo, on Aug. 30, 2006, and then driving to Orange High School with a cache of weapons and opening fire. Two students were injured in the shooting, which ended when school personnel tackled him.
Castillo has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to all charges.
Vicky Castillo said her only son was so meek and terrified by her husband that he couldn't intervene to stop Rafael Castillo from abusing her. She said she called him a coward for letting his younger sister, Victoria, step in to halt the abuse.
Victoria Castillo testified that her father was domineering, forbidding his children from having friends and verbally and physically abusing them and their mother if they disagreed with him.
"He couldn't take disobedience," Victoria Castillo said. "When my dad wasn't home, it was more peaceful."
Alvaro Castillo became intrigued by the concept of death and suicide when he was 15, according to his mother and sister. He would routinely talk about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and other school shootings, as well as his affinity for guns, they said.
After Alvaro Castillo insisted on going with a friend to Columbine, Vicky Castillo said, she took him to Colorado with the hope that it would satisfy his curiosity and his obsession with the school shooting would end.
"My major thing was to make this a touristic trip so he could forget about the tragedy," she said.
Alvaro Castillo told his mother that he sympathized with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two Columbine shooters, because he felt they were "sick like him," she testified.
"I said, 'Alvaro, what about the others (who were killed in the massacre),' and he said, 'They're OK. They're in heaven,'" Vicky Castillo said.
Alvaro Castillo tried to commit suicide in April 2006 – the seventh anniversary of the Columbine shooting – and he withdrew from the family after that, spending more time alone in his bedroom, his mother and sister said. They said they had no idea he had started keeping a journal and making videos detailing his obsessions and his plans to carry out his own version of Columbine.
"I didn't really suspect anything," Vicky Castillo said. "I didn't have any idea of what was going on in his mind."
Victoria Castillo said her brother became very anxious after his mother found a gun in his room, fearing she would take it from him. His parents eventually agreed to allow him to keep weapons as long as he surrendered all ammunition to them.
After that, Alvaro Castillo would often cradle a shotgun like a teddy bear while he slept, his mother said.
Vicky Castillo said under cross-examination that she didn't fear for her family's safety with the guns in the house. She said she was more concerned about another suicide attempt but said she thought the chances for that were slim because the guns were unloaded.
She said her son seemed to be functioning normally – he was taking classes at Durham Technical Community College and was working part time – but she thinks depression and medication he was taking to treat the condition ate at him. She noted that he told her he felt no emotion after some high school classmates were killed in a wreck in the summer of 2006.
"I don't know what is wrong with me," Alvaro Castillo told his mother at the time. "I don't feel anything. I'm losing my feelings."
Earlier in the day, defense witnesses described Alvaro Castillo's demeanor shortly after the shootings.
Dr. Kyle Johnson, a psychiatrist at UNC Hospitals who examined Castillo after his arrest, said Castillo differentiated his actions from murder, saying he had "sacrificed" his father and wanted to sacrifice students to save them from the pain of the world.
"He felt it would benefit people. It was not an act of harm but an act of love," Johnson testified.
Castillo was very calm and detached in describing the shootings, but he broke down in tears when talking about his desire to die, Johnson said. He described his fascination with the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado and said he tried to get a deputy to shoot him, Johnson said.
Johnson said he thought Castillo was psychotic, noting he had paranoid delusions that he was being watched and had experienced hallucinations about an evil twin named "Red" who ordered him to harm himself and others.
A clinical social worker who testified Monday as a defense witness also characterized Castillo as psychotic.
Orange County Deputy Rayford Thompson, who was in charge of the jail the day of the shootings, testified that Castillo rambled on for about an hour after he was brought to the jail.
"He walked in the door talking," Thompson said. "It was sort of like he was rambling, just talking constantly. I really couldn't understand anything he was saying."
Castillo made references to flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, pipe bombs at his house, a girl he liked, videos he had made, someone's birthday in Oregon and his sister needing to be picked up from school, Thompson said. He also said, "God made me do it," according to the deputy.
Lee Gordon, an Orange High history teacher, said Castillo had been a "model student," and he said he was shocked by the behavior Castillo exhibited in media reports about his arrest.
"Al, in my knowledge, has no violent tendencies. He was courteous, calm, almost gentlemanly," Gordon testified. "I couldn't believe it was the same person I had known in school ... (because of) the viciousness, the violent tendencies (and) the yelling."