FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) – It’s been three years since Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. It happened July 6, 2016.
The 32-year-old’s death gained international attention as his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was also in the car, live-streamed some of what happened on Facebook. Since then, Castile’s family has worked to keep his legacy alive through positive work.
“It’s been three years and it’s been very difficult,” said Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother.
Flowers and pictures mark the spot where Philando Castile died in 2016, but just down the street at a neighborhood gathering, Sunday night is about healing.
“Between ethnic groups, between police and everybody in general, we need healing,” said Melanie Leehy, Falcon Heights City Council member.
That’s why the Philando Castile Relief Foundation hosted the third annual barbeque in Castile’s honor and the second official Unity Day in Falcon Heights.
“The foundation was designed to help families who lose their loved ones to gun violence,” Valerie Castile said.
Valerie Castile started the foundation to help keep her son’s legacy alive. The foundation has donated thousands of dollars to help clear the lunch debt of students around Minnesota. Castile worked as a cafe supervisor at a local school prior to his death.
“He cared a lot about kids and their future and food and just those basic needs, so just to see what we’ve done to continue to build from that, I think he’d be amazed,” said Renita Wilson, Philando’s cousin.
Valerie said the night of food, music and conversation is bittersweet, that something good can come out of tragedy.
“He’s moving things and making significant changes across this world,” Valerie said.
A vigil was held Saturday night along Larpenteur Avenue near where Castile was killed three years ago. His family says they hope the Unity Day will expand beyond city limits and encourage people in other communities to get to know one another.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile, said he thought Castile was reaching for a gun. Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter charges but was removed from the police force.