When Allysza Castile heard her brother’s voice for the last time, they were making plans on the phone to celebrate his upcoming birthday at Valleyfair, a local amusement park with cotton candy, funnel cakes and roller coasters.
They also discussed a viral video that showed a black man in Baton Rouge shot to death by police officers. She said Philando Castile had seen the graphic footage of Alton Sterling’s death that was sweeping across the Internet and rekindling racial tensions.
She told him that she couldn’t bear to watch the violence and soon posted to Facebook: “I haven’t watched the video of this man being killed by police and I will not because it will literally break my heart and I’m soo tired of seeing this happen to my PEOPLE for no reason ! All these killings caught camera and still no justice it makes me sick ! RIP #altonsterling.”
Hours later, her older sibling’s shooting death was captured on a live-streamed Facebook video after a routine traffic stop. His name became another trending topic on social media.
“It took Philando Castile to be a hashtag to show them these are people’s lives you’re taking,” she said. “He didn’t die for no reason.”
In interviews with The Washington Post, the Castile family described their anger and frustration in the days after the death of the 32-year-old known as Phil. Inside the family home in the leafy Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale, the Castiles discussed funeral arrangements and cross-country plane trips for relatives. They talked about mustering the courage to see his body.
Allysza acknowledged that her brother’s death had sparked protests and demonstrations across the nation, and possibly had catalyzed events that led a gunman to open fire on law enforcement officers in Dallas. She was shocked by the news of the Dallas massacre Thursday, which happened the same day as a vigil for her brother.
At the vigil, less than 24 hours after he died, Philando Castile’s mother stood before hundreds gathered in front of J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where Castile had worked in the cafeteria. Valerie Castile told the crowd that her son was “executed by the police.”
“It was my son today,” she said. “But it could be yours tomorrow or yours the next.”
Philando Castile had been driving his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, when they were stopped by police, apparently for a broken taillight. They had just finished grocery shopping, and he had visited a hairdresser to get his dreadlocks twisted in preparation for the family gathering for his birthday, 10 days away.
What came next, the world knows. Philando had been reaching for his wallet, Reynolds has said, when he told the police officer that he was carrying a handgun. Before he could show his permit to carry, Philando was shot five times, his mother said.
Reynolds began live-streaming the aftermath from her phone. In the nine-minute video, blood soaks Castile’s shirt. He groans in pain. His head rolls back as he begins to lose consciousness. During the entire live-streamed portion of the encounter, the police officer keeps his handgun pointed at Castile.
After the vigil at the Montessori school, the Castile family led a procession half a mile to the Minnesota governor’s mansion. Outside the property, demonstrators threaded yellow crime-scene tape through the railings of the iron fence. The marchers held a moment of silence for Castile. Then the gates to the mansion opened, and Gov. Mark Dayton (D) made his way through the crowd to Valerie Castile. Allysza Castile stood at her mother’s side as the governor lightly held Valerie’s right hand, kissed it and apologized, telling her: “We’ll get justice for this.”
Soon, rain began to fall, and Allysza saw it as a sign from her brother.
“It felt like he was crying tears of joy,” she said. Then the sun came out. A rainbow appeared near the family home. Allysza captured the moment on Snapchat.
“Hey brother,” she wrote in a caption for the photo.
Back home after the vigil and march, the Castiles stayed up late, unable to sleep. Allysza consoled her mother, who finally was overcome by the emotions of losing her son.
“My mom was screaming and wailing,” Allysza said. She lay beside her mother in bed, cradling her as she fell asleep in tears. “I held her like a baby. I held her like she was my baby.”
On Friday morning, Allysza said she was still unable to believe her brother was gone.
“I went to sleep and felt like it was a dream,” she said. “Now I’m awake and still feel like it was a dream.”
At a nearby Perkins restaurant for breakfast, strangers approached her to offer condolences. She greeted each with a hug as her tears flowed. Her cellphone buzzed with messages from friends and family members giving updates in the investigation into her brother’s death.
She heard that the police would not confirm that he had a permit to carry a firearm, citing department policy.
Allysza decided to call the gun shop where she and her brother had taken a six-hour course together a year earlier to receive the certification. They had paid for the class with a Groupon discount, she told the clerk on the phone. Did they have the paperwork in their files, she asked?
The clerk asked her for his name.
There was a pause on the line.
“Yeah,” she said. “The man that got killed.”
The clerk told her to call back later for help with the paperwork, but Allysza showed a Washington Post reporter a copy of her own permit to carry. She keeps a 9mm handgun by her front door for self-defense, and it is loaded with bullets designed to create maximum damage. But when she steps out, she leaves the firearm in the house. She said she’s afraid that if she’s seen with a gun, a passerby might call the police.
“I’m more scared of them than anyone else,” she said.
Her phone rang. It another caller offering kind words. Tears rolled down her cheeks once more.
“I woke up,” she told a friend on the phone, “and it’s still not a dream.”