Colleagues and parents on Thursday remembered Philando Castile as an ambitious man who served as a role model for hundreds of children before he was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota.
Castile, who was known by friends as Phil, was a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Saint Paul, Minn., where he memorized the names of the 500 children he served every day — along with their food allergies, his former coworker said.
“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, a recently retired paraprofessional at the school, told TIME. “This was a real guy. He made a real contribution. Yes, black lives matter. But this man mattered.”
A police officer shot Castile, 32, late Wednesday during a traffic stop in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, authorities said. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, captured the aftermath of the incident on video and streamed it on Facebook Live, where it went viral.
Reynolds told reporters Thursday that her boyfriend was complying with the officer’s instructors to put his hands in the air and get his license and registration. She added that he told police that he had a gun in the car and a permit to carry it. Castile did “nothing but what the police officer asked of us,” she said. “Nothing within his body language said shoot me.”
The shooting death shocked Edman, 62, who said Castile was a dutiful worker who adhered to rules strictly. “I’ve never seen anybody take that kind of role so seriously,” she said. “He followed directions carefully.”
Castile graduated from Central High School in 2001 and had worked for Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) since he was 19 years old, beginning in 2002 in the Nutrition Services Department, the school district said in a statement.
He was promoted to a supervisory position two years ago and was currently working at one of the schools during summer break. “I am deeply sorry for his family and for their loss. He’s worked in SPPS for many years and he graduated from our district, so he was one of our own,” SPPS Superintendent Valeria Silva said in the statement.
Parents, several of whom rallied for justice outside the tight-knit school Thursday, said they felt safe knowing Castile was in charge of their children’s food and said Castile transformed the cafeteria into a positive and cheerful space.
“He was a fixture. 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,” Andrew Karre, whose 8-year-old son attends J.J. Hill, told TIME.
“He was just a nice, caring person who worked at the school, who should not be dead,” said Karre, 37.
In the school district’s statement, an unnamed coworker says Castile was smart and “overqualified” for his position, yet still took his job seriously. “Kids loved him. He was quiet, respectful and kind. I knew him as warm and funny,” the colleague said. “He wore a shirt and tie to his supervisor interview and said his goal was to one day ‘sit on the other side of this table.’”
Edman said Castile may have worked inside a kitchen, but he often taught children important lessons in the consequences of stealing and being respectful. “He was much a teacher than any teacher in that building,” Edman said. “We had a calmer cafeteria this year, and I think it was because he was there.”
Castile was someone who “has that presence that people respect and they become more respectful too,” Edman said.
“I think he did that for kids,” she said. “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.”