Philando Castile Remembered as ‘Mr. Rogers With Dreadlocks’

By Douglas Belkin 
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Philando Castile, the black man killed Wednesday by a suburban police officer in a routine traffic stop, was remembered Thursday as a gentle man who had a deep well of patience and kindness for children even in the sometimes boisterous environs of the elementary school cafeteria where he began most days before sunrise.

“He was like Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks,” said Sally Rafowicz, whose two children attended the school where Mr. Castile worked preparing and serving breakfast and lunch for hundreds of students every school day.

Ms. Rafowicz spoke in front of more than 1,000 people who gathered at the school’s main entrance, between a playing field and a jungle gym to memorialize the man shot dead by police the previous night.

The mood at the service toggled between mournful and outraged as his colleagues, cousins and friends described a man who loved to listen to rhythm and blues while he prepared meals for hundreds of children every day and kept his cool no matter how many lunchroom trays crashed to the floor.

Mr. Castile had just returned from a family reunion in St. Louis before he was shot by police who pulled him over for driving with a broken taillight in the Twin Cities suburb of Falcon Heights. Several African-Americans attending the protests said the neighborhood is notorious as somewhere blacks expected to be hassled by police.

Still, the news stunned the community of teachers and parents who knew Mr. Castile as Mr. Phil.

“I think anyone who knew Phil can’t believe it. I can’t believe he did anything other than what the officer asked him to do,” said Gary Seiber, who worked with Mr. Castile. He said he would occasionally toss an extra cookie on a child’s tray or fist bump them as they passed through the lunch line. “He picked everyone up who was around him. That’s why this is such a shock.”

Mr. Castile’s mother said her son was well-loved and loving, a man who came from a family with deep roots and who was raised to be a pillar of the community.

That future ended when he was “executed,” she said.

Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, who was sitting next to him noted he never even unbuckled his seat belt.

After the memorial service at the school, thousands of people marched peacefully to the governor’s mansion about 10 blocks away, where they joined protesters for chants and speeches.

Write to Douglas Belkin at doug.belkin[a]

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