This will be the Castillo boys’ second Christmas without their dad. The boys remember he used to brighten their house with Christmas lights and inflatable figures. He didn’t drink. He enjoyed family gatherings, and always made people laugh.
Neighbors remember seeing the boys –– Brian, 11; Michael, 14; and Anthony, 17 –– tossing around a football on the front lawn with their dad, a Miami-Dade police officer. But on Jan. 20, 2011, Detective Roger Castillo couldn’t return home to his boys.
A violent fugitive suspect shot and killed Castillo, 41, and Detective Amanda Lynn Haworth, 44, at a home in Liberty City. Haworth was a Miami-Dade police 23-year veteran who never missed one of her son’s baseball games. Her son and step-son –– Austin, 15; and Jordan, 16 –– will also miss her this Christmas.
“We want to make this holiday season a little brighter for some 69 children who have lost their parents,” said Miami-Dade Officer Marilyn Butler, of The Police Officers Assistance Trust (POAT).
The surviving children of fallen police officers get to submit a wish list to the non-profit organization, which helps Santa get the kids gifts and money for Christmas through their annual “Holiday Remembrance Program.” The organization offers assistance to any police agency in Miami-Dade County.
“This year’s wish list includes iPads and iPods. And video games are very popular,” Butler said.
South Miami police set up a POAT fundraising table that will accept donations –– cash, check and credit card –– through the month of December at the Shops of Sunset Place, 5701 Sunset Drive, near the east entrance by the stores Forever 21 and the Z Gallerie. There are also donations tables at Aventura, Dadeland and Southland malls, as well as The Falls Shopping Center.
“South Miami Police Officers have been volunteering their personal time to assist at the Sunset Place collection table,” South Miami Maj. Rene Landa said. “Then when everything is ready, police officers visit the family homes and drop off the gifts.”
This year’s group of beneficiaries includes the three children of Miami-Dade Corrections officer Andrew Johnson, 46, who was murdered Dec. 1, in Miami Gardens. Also the children of Miami-Dade police Officer Jose Somohano, 37, who died after a suspect shot him dead during a traffic stop. Sept. 13, 2007.
“Also included in our program are the children of officers who did not die in the line of duty, but were still employed as full-time law enforcement officers at the time of their deaths,” Butler said.
Other departments include Coral Gables, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Homestead, Miami, Florida Corrections, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-locka and Sweetwater.
“We want to make sure that these children know that their parents’ sacrifice hasn’t been forgotten,” Landa said. “The message is that we remember and they are not alone.”