A student remembers her school's 'lunch man,' Philando Castile

Updated: 2:32 p.m. | Posted: 5:37 a.m.

It's been two years since the death of Philando Castile, the Minnesota man misidentified as a robbery suspect and then shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop.

To the world, he was a name in a major news story, but to more than 400 kids at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, he was their "lunch man."

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He was the school's cafeteria supervisor. Students there called him Mr. Phil.

Leila Ramgren, 10, a student at the school, remembers that he loved kids.

"He used to have secret handshakes with people," she tells her dad, Chad Eisen-Ramgren, in a StoryCorps conversation last month. "And if you didn't have enough on your tray, he would pull out graham crackers or something. And he did it with his own money."

Chad tells Leila that when Castile got pulled over, he told the officer he had a gun he was licensed to carry.

"I'm glad that Mr. Phil said that. But, I'm sad that Mr. Phil said that," she says.

Castile was shot as he reached for his wallet, telling the officer he was not reaching for his gun.

"He was trying to do what the officer said, but the officer decided to pull out his firearm and shoot Mr. Phil," Chad says.

"The officer should have said, 'Hand me your gun. I'll give it back to you once I know that you have a permit.' Then he should have gave him a ticket and then they should have been on their ways," Leila says.

She says she remembers her dad saying that if Castile, who was black, had been white, he wouldn't have been shot.

"You know how everybody at school liked Mr. Phil and he was a warm presence, everybody felt good around him?" Chad says. "Is it a weird thought to you to think that outside the school there are people who would look at him and think that he was scary?"

"It would just make me feel like, it would just make me feel really sad inside," she says. "Mr. Phil was not scary."

"Yeah," her dad says, "and Mr. Phil paid the ultimate price and that was really unfair."

Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in 2017 on criminal charges in the shooting death of Philando Castile. A jury acquitted the police officer of all charges in Castile's shooting.

Yanez was the first Minnesota law enforcement officer to be charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing a citizen in the line of duty.

Leila asks if the officer's acquittal made her dad mad.

"Yeah, I was really mad. And I'm still mad," he says. "Hopefully the world will change."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.