Insights into a shooter's mind

Jurors ponder Castillo's state

Staff WriterAugust 5, 2009 

— On the ride to the UNC Hospitals psychiatric ward after he surrendered to the Orange County Sheriff's Office three years ago, Alvaro Castillo asked Deputy Jonathan Daniel if he thought he was crazy.

"I told him that I didn't know," Daniel testified Tuesday.

That's exactly the question 12 jurors are trying to answer after Castillo, 22, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting death of his father and his opening fire on Orange High School, his alma mater.

District Attorney Jim Woodall called to the witness stand two former Orange High students; a driver education instructor who handcuffed Castillo at the school; and several sheriff's officers who testified about the location of bullet casings, Castillo's mental state and much more.

Daniel described a man who shook uncontrollably, mimed shooting himself and feared snipers were waiting for him at the hospital. He said Castillo's calmest moment came after Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass warned him that reporters would be waiting for him outside the jail on his way to the hospital and said he didn't have to talk to them.

"What if I want to?" Daniel recalled him asking.

Castillo then repeated statements from the crime scene: "Remember Columbine" and "It's all about sacrifice."

Woodall submitted into evidence a white headband Castillo had worn to the high school. Handwritten on one side were the words "Shoot me" and on the other side "Columbine." He also wore a T-shirt screen-printed with the words "Colorado, Established 1876." Written in marker on the front were the words "Natural Selection" and on the back "Remember Columbine, April 20, 1999, Littleton, Colo., I'm sorry for the pain" with dozens of hand-drawn crosses.

April 20 was also the date in 2006 when Castillo's father, Rafael Castillo, stopped his son from shooting himself with a shotgun and had him committed to the psychiatric ward.

Woodall made a point to ask Daniel whether Castillo had ever claimed God had commanded him to kill his father and students at Orange High School, a rationale Public Defender James Williams had raised in his opening statement.

Assistant Public Defender Phoebe Dee objected to Woodall's question, but Judge Allen Baddour let it stand.

Daniel answered, no, Castillo had said nothing about God, only an imaginary twin brother named Red.

"Red had told him to do this," Daniel said. "He told him to hurt other people, to rape people and to have other people rape him."

Dee also asked sheriff's investigator Troy Comar why he had Castillo committed on the day of the shootings. Comar said the then 19-year-old had killed his father, made bomb threats on the school and talked of suicide.

"And there was one more thing that you were aware of that day," said Dee, gesturing at the affidavit Comar had submitted to a magistrate seeking involuntary commitment.

"Respondent has been committed in the past," Comar read.

Earlier in the day, retired state trooper Russell LeBlanc didn't give an inch as Dee tried to depict her client as insane.

At the end of her cross-examination, Dee asked LeBlanc, a prosecution witness, to describe her client's laughter, talk of Columbine and asking officers to shoot him after he fired into the high school.

"So his behavior was very strange?" Dee asked.

"No," LeBlanc said, shaking his head. "No."

Witnesses described Castillo shooting into the school building from a parking lot and quickly surrendering when confronted by LeBlanc and school-resource officer London Ivey.

As students ducked for cover near the cafeteria, LeBlanc and Ivey were watching Castillo from inside the school when LeBlanc noticed Castillo had stopped firing to examine his rifle.

"Let's go get this guy," LeBlanc said, according to his testimony. "Something's wrong with the gun."

As they approached across two outdoor patios and down two sets of stairs, LeBlanc reached for his handgun out of habit from his 26 years in law enforcement, witnesses said. But he had no handgun.

Aiming his own pistol at Castillo, Ivey ordered him to drop his weapons and lie on the ground.

"Ivey, kill me! Shoot me! You'll like it. You'll like it," Castillo yelled, dropping onto his knees then his belly, the officer testified.

Ivey said Castillo never aimed his gun at them. LeBlanc used Ivey's handcuffs to bind Castillo while Ivey covered the teenager with his own handgun. LeBlanc told Ivey to check inside Castillo's minivan and scan the area for accomplices.

"I did it myself," Castillo said, laughing, according to LeBlanc.

"This ain't very funny," LeBlanc replied.

"Remember Columbine," Castillo kept saying.

Soon, other officers arrived and put Castillo into a patrol car. Ivey recalled standing outside the car when Castillo spontaneously said:

"He's not going to sacrifice anyone else. I sacrificed him."

"What are you talking about?" Ivey asked.

"He won't hurt anyone else again," Castillo repeated, according to Ivey. "I sacrificed him."

"Who are you talking about?" Ivey asked.

"My father," Castillo answered.

Both the prosecution and defense agree Castillo killed his father and fired on the school. Now an Orange County jury must determine whether the shootings were the actions of an insane man.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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