Local News

Accused school shooter's mother, sister testify

Posted August 11, 2009

— 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."


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  • FromClayton Aug 12, 2009

    Women: If your husband is abusing you GET OUT. It is not the job of your children to protect you, it is your job to protect your children. This probably could have been avoided if the mother had removed her children from this situation before it planted such seeds in the boys head.

  • amyrn Aug 11, 2009

    He had a psychotic break from reality. With the right intervention, the right meds and the right psychiatric therapy, it may never have happened. But, beware, as someone else said, it is just going to keep happening! The mentally ill population is the most neglected group of people in society. The pharmacy companies who make sooo much money on antipsychotics and other psychotropic drugs should be required to invest some of the profits back into mental health treatment and not just by letting some people have medications for free.

  • Adelinthe Aug 11, 2009

    Like I've said before, living with someone who is abusive can drive one over the edge.

    If you haven't been there, you just don't know.

    But that still doesn't explain in my mind why he went to the school and shot people.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Aug 11, 2009

    I can understand now why he shot his father, but I cannot understand why he shot people at the school.

    Praying for his mother and sister. Only one who has been trapped by abuse will ever understand.

    God bless.


  • GoHeels88 Aug 11, 2009


  • x7 Aug 11, 2009

    You would think the Code Red alert Orange County just sent out to all their phones would at least make a story. If you live in Orange, dont call 911. It is broke.

  • 2beachy4u Aug 11, 2009

    I hate that people use insanity to get off the hook for murder. He is insane but obviously has been for years not just near the time frame of the murders. Throw him in prison and maybe some of those fellows will scare him back sane.

  • Weaker Pelosi Aug 11, 2009

    I don't know about psychotic, but weird for sure.

  • teacher56 Aug 11, 2009

    This man is mentally ill due to past abuse from his home life. If parents would only be trained to do their job, these tragic situations could be lessened.

  • RUSH_2112 Aug 11, 2009

    This has been a top story for days. I am sick of looking at that killer's face every time I go to the main page.