Pepper spray victim in fatal mêlée

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA — Kyle Castillo, a College of the Redwoods student, was one of the indirect targets of an alleged pepper spray attack that reportedly led to the murder of Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson.

Castillo was at an afterparty on April 14 to 15 at a house on Spear Avenue with his older brother Kristoff. Castillo said in an interview last Saturday that he and his brother were standing on the front porch when they were approached by a man who asked, “‘Hey, have you seen a gold iPhone?’

“And I said, ‘Nah, bro, I haven’t.’ He was with two girls, one with blond hair, one with a kind of bluish hair. One of the girls said, and these are her exact words, ‘Bullshit! I know you have my phone.’ Then she told me to flip my pockets inside out.

“After she told me that, I looked at the guy and said, ‘Get your girl because she doesn’t even know me.’

“That’s when a fight broke out between the girl and Josiah’s girlfriend, Ren. They got into a physical fight. They grabbed each other and fought. That’s when me and my brother and Josiah got into it” with Kyle Zoellner, Lawson’s alleged killer.

Kyle Zoellner

The fracas erupted on the front porch, Castillo said. Referring to Zoellner’s mug shot and the suspect’s facial injuries, widely publicized in the press, he said in an aside, “We didn’t do that to him.”

Castillo went on, “It was the three of us against him and he was on the floor. And then we kinda stopped it and that’s when one of the girls pepper sprayed Kristoff in his eyes. She intentionally pepper sprayed my brother. It got into all of our mouths and eyes a little bit.

“At this point, the fight was over, we were all incapacitated. After the pepper spray, me, my brother, Ren and Josiah, we walked out into the yard and were in the street. All of us were on Spear Avenue. Ren was with Josiah and I was with my brother, we were all together in a group.”

Castillo said his brother was hardest hit. “He was blinded and I was holding on to him. I could hear Josiah behind me talking to somebody by a car and he was saying, ‘Take me home, take me home.’ He needed milk for his eyes. I assumed he got into the person’s car.”

Having surmised that Lawson was safe and departing, Castillo and his brother decided it was time for them to leave, too. Kristoff was sober and the designated driver. He was to take the wheel of the car belonging to Kyle’s girlfriend, AnnAlicia.

The brothers walked some distance down the avenue to her parked car and found no one there. They walked back to the house in search of AnnAlicia.

While the brothers had been absent, “Josiah and Ren had gone back to the house,” Castillo learned.”I didn’t think Josiah would walk back into the house because the fight was already over.

“By the time I got back, Josiah was lying in the bushes next to the house. He was stabbed when he went back into the house with Ren.”

Castillo estimated that he had been away less than a minute.

“I asked Ren why they walked back [to the house] and she told me they [she and Josiah] were mad that they had been pepper sprayed. That led to the stabbing by the porch.”

Humboldt State student Elijah Chandler, one of the partygoers who led immediate lifesaving efforts to help Lawson stave off death until medics arrived, said there was no rational reason for Zoellner’s companions to assume the iPhone had been stolen. He is firm in the conviction, based on several hours of socializing inside and outside the house, that the challenge was rooted solely in skin color, in racial prejudice and stereotypes.

“There were other people of color there, there were other Caucasian people at this party, but from what I saw and what other people saw, they [the two Caucasian girls] were only approaching people of color [about their missing phone.] They were being very aggressive, very accusatory. For some reason, everybody they talked to had to have the phone.”

In other words, the women and Zoellner were casting about for a thief, rather than assuming they had simply lost the phone or misplaced it.

Death resulted from their mistaken assumption.


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