Published on March 13th, 2017 | by Joseph Kean


Samo recovers from recent deaths of Kelly Cano and Juan Castillo

After the passing of senior Kelly Cano on Feb. 10, 2017 following an unknown illness, her death is being mourned–and her life remembered–by students, teachers and community members alike, with commemorations including a large mural in the history building hallway.

Friends of Kelly, teachers and students were heartbroken after hearing about the news and a few of her friends arranged a get-together at the Palisades bluffs the Sunday after she passed away, reminiscing about the time they shared with her. Posters and drawings were made in her honor as soon as school was back in session on Monday and a poster was hung in the first floor of History hallway covered in notes and pictures from her friends. Sports organizations such as boys lacrosse and girls soccer commemorated Kelly as well by putting her initials on hair ribbons and helmets. ASB Secretary Collin Ferrara (’17) announced her death to any students or staff who were not informed during homeroom and lead the school in a moment of silence.

Hundreds of Samo students attended a memorial service held at St. Monica’s Church the following Saturday. Kelly’s next-door neighbor and friend Grace Garland (’17) delivered a eulogy, along with two of Kelly’s other friends and members of her family.

“The service was beautiful and it really showed how many lives Kelly touched, as well as giving people the opportunity to share fun memories and journeys they had with her,” Garland said.

Kelly impacted the community greatly, whether it was helping kids in class, leaving the audience in shock after a sensational choir performance, passing new bills in Youth and Government, selling Girl Scout Cookies or making her friends laugh on the weekends. Her unique style and adventurous personality encouraged so many around her to be their own individual, not care what others have to say about them.

Close friend and classmate of Kelly, Chase Thompson (’17), shared this deeply personal memory that defined their friendship.

“I will always remember the time Kelly and I shared the same cabin on a choir retreat,” Thompson said. “One night I had a horrible nightmare and woke her up. She quickly moved my mattress right next to hers and brought me pillows and blankets. She waited and made sure I was okay until I went back to sleep.”

Kelly joined choir freshman year and continued with it the following four years, eventually making her way into the chamber ensemble. Choir teacher Jeffe Huls spent four years with Kelly and watched her grow from a shy freshman into the outgoing senior she was.

“All the years I’ve known Kelly she was perpetually happy and always put others around her in a good mood,” Huls said. “She would always do these kooky dances whenever I turned my back to her and one time she started dancing so crazily she banged her head and got a black eye. Kelly was just one of those girls who was always there if the mood needed to be lightened.”

Heavily interested in politics, Kelly joined Youth and Government. She frequently thought of bills to be passed and traveled to Sacramento to present them. Her most recent bill was presented Friday, Feb. 17, sadly without her. Samo senior and friend of Kelly (as well as the sister of this writer), Jenny Kean (’17), presented their bill alone.

“Kelly was so passionate about everything she did, especially Youth and Government,” Kean said. “Everyone who knew her loved her and looked forward to seeing her bright smile and sparkly sunglasses at the conferences.”

This current school year, the Samo community has lost not only Kelly, but also custodian Jorge Bracamonte, Sophomore Vanai Jelks and recently Juan Castillo (’16), who passed away last weekend. Samo principal Dr. Antonio Shelton encourages all students and staff to communicate with Shuli Lotan for extra support if needed.
“One of the stages of grief is anger, and my advice to anyone who is struggling with a loss is to communicate and not be alone,” Shelton said. “The Samo administration and I will always make sure students have someone to talk to.”

Sunday afternoon, staff and students were informed that Juan Castillo, recent Samo graduate passed away Sun, Feb. 26, 2017.

Principal Antonio Shelton, Ed.D., issued a statement via email addressed to the Samo family.

“It is with sadness that I write this email,” Shelton said. “Early this morning one of our former students passed away. The student’s name is Juan Castillo and he graduated from Samohi in 2016. He was a football player and many of our students and faculty knew him as a very personable young man. This evening our football team is gathering to reflect on the life of Juan, as he was a member of the team while a student.”

Known on campus as a friend, motivator, jester and protector, Castillo cut a wide swath at Samo.

Head football coach Ramsey Lambert believes Castillo’s charisma and ability to motivate in multiple scenarios were among his largest strengths.

“I will always remember Juan as a charismatic leader,” Lambert said. “He exemplified what it meant to have school pride. If he was a fan in the stands or leading our football team on the field, Juan Castillo would get everyone ready for competition. Our team would follow Juan anywhere, that’s how much we believed in him. If he said something could be done, no matter how tall the feat, we went along. Juan’s heart and grit will forever be remembered within our Samo football team and for the 2017 season, we will play in #53’s honor.”

“Coaches listened to Juan as much as Juan listened to coaches,” Dariush Sayson (’18), former teammate and friend of Castillo, said.

In fact, Castillo attended every Samo football team this year, including the ones as far away as Orange County, according to Sayson.

“So we were three hours away deep in Santa Ana in Orange County at Segerstrom High School and there was about five minutes until game time, and coming down the hill, I see Juan, Jon Fanous (’16), and Thomas [Hernandez] (’16),” Sayson said. “And Juan was yelling ‘SAAAAMOOOOOOO!! He was there at every home and away game,” Sayson said

Joshua Paez (’17) was a friend of Castillo’s and remembers him as fiercely loyal and the type of tough guy to have a soft spot for those he cares for.

“Juan was an extremely unique person,” Paez said. “You either hated him or you loved him. If you were on his good side, he showed unconditional love and protected you like family. He was like a big brother to me, he always had my back no matter what. He had a tough exterior but if you got to know the real Juan you’d understand why I loved him like a brother.”

Armani Rodriguez (’17) remembers Castillo for his charm and influence in her life.

“If you didn’t know him he would introduce himself and the next day you would feel like you’ve known him forever,” Rodriguez said. “He was and still is my big brother. He gave me speeches about life. He stayed telling me to teach him how to dance and to chill out. The one thing I’m going to always remember is him telling me, ‘Once you see that boat being built for Grad Nite, that’s when you know it’s your time to graduate, that’s when you know you’re growing up and it’s time for the real world.’”

Castillo was well-known for treating his friends like family.  Flack Martinez (’16) remembers one instance of his kindness in particular.

“My little sister was getting bullied and I was sick at home with strep and couldn’t deal with the situation that day, so he walked her to each of her classes that day and assured her that it would be alright,” Martinez said. “He completely resolved the issue and continued to watch over her for the remainder of the year.”

Maria Di Franco (’16) recalls a time when she was being harassed at a party, and Juan stepped in to take care of the situation.

“He followed my friend into the house and came out with the boy making him apologize to me and telling him to get out of sight,” Di Franco said. “But he looked even more distressed than before. That boy was one of his best friends. He went into this house and dragged one of his best friends out by the hood for disrespecting me, and we had just met a couple of weeks ago. Juan had my back, when I couldn’t possibly expect him to. He truly had a code to live by and he stood up for it-no matter the consequences.”

Antonia Fuller (’16) remembers how Juan would go out of his way to cheer her up whenever he saw her down. She sees him as a representation of Santa Monica as a hometown.

“He was easily one of the most loyal and kind souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s going to be missed by so, so many people. Juan was Santa Monica to me and most of my graduating class, and we’ll miss his spirit so much.”

The circumstances surrounding Castillo’s death are still unclear. Castillo was found dead at about 5:08 a.m. in the 1300 block of 16th Street, Sunday morning, according to SMPD Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez.  

There were grief counselors on campus Monday and the district is offering complimentary and confidential counseling at 1-800-882-1341.

Castillo’s death occurred only two weeks after Samo lost senior Kelly Cano, and marks the fifth loss to the Samo community this school year.

Shelton urged students, staff and parents alike to keep Castillo and his family, along with the others we have lost, in their thoughts and prayers. A GoFundMe site has been established to raise money for Castillo’s funeral expenses.

The investigation is ongoing and detectives are interested in speaking with anyone who was in the area.  Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective D. Larios (310) 458-8937; Detective B. Cooper (310) 458-8478 or the Santa Monica Police Department at (310) 458-8491.


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