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The Quiet Warrior program, a collaboration between PoliceOne and 5.11 Tactical, aims to spotlight the hidden side of law enforcement – the humble excellence that often goes unheralded. Law enforcement is filled with great stories of professionalism, compassion, heroism and humility.
Article by: Police One
Officer Jonny Castro has painted 99 portraits (and counting) in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their communities
In March 2015, a 30-year-old Philadelphia police officer entered a GameStop to purchase a video game for his son’s birthday – a gift he would never deliver. Officer Robert Wilson III was shot and killed during a gun battle with two would-be robbers who came into the store while Wilson was at the counter.
As with every line of duty death, the officer’s passing rocked his department and the law enforcement community at large. As the first anniversary of Wilson’s death approached, his colleague, Philly Officer Jonny Castro, reached out to Wilson’s family for some personal photos to use as reference. He wanted to give Wilson an opportunity he never had while he was alive – to proudly wear the sergeant’s uniform he had earned posthumously. Carefully decorating the uniform with intricately detailed depictions of the Medal of Honor and Medal of Valor the sergeant also earned after his death, Castro painted a portrait of a man who died a warrior.
From art school to Iraq
Growing up, Castro never imagined himself becoming a cop. His mind was on art; he got into sketching at an early age because of his father, who also had a knack for drawing. He admired illustrators – from the animators behind classic Disney films to the iconic movie poster work of Drew Struzan – and at 18 decided to further hone his skills by going to art school for graphic design. Then, early in his freshman year, Castro watched along with the rest of the nation as the Twin Towers fell.
Like many young Americans, the devastating attack that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people galvanized a need deep within Castro to serve his country. He dropped out of school in his second year and joined the Army, serving as a military police officer in Iraq from 2004-2005. Upon returning home from overseas, he joined the police academy and worked patrol for nine years before transferring to the department’s graphic arts unit to work as a forensic artist. For Castro, who wasn’t sure he’d ever make a career out of drawing, the marriage of his passion for art and passion to serve was an unlikely stroke of luck in an already unusual career path.
Courage on canvas
When Castro posted the portrait of Wilson to social media, along with a detailed caption in tribute to the fallen officer, it garnered a massive response from both police and the public. It was the first of 80 portraits (and counting) that Castro has painted to honor and humanize those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their communities.
“I do it to get their stories out there,” Castro said. “A lot of times it’ll [the death of an officer] just pop up in the news, but you really don’t know what happened, you just see it [the headline] on Facebook. I do it to let people know that it wasn’t just a cop that was killed; it was somebody’s father, somebody’s husband – it was a human being.”
In memory of
While Castro’s work has received a lot of attention, he doesn’t do it for the recognition or praise. He made it clear that his mission is to honor these heroes and share their stories – he wants the attention on them, not himself.
“I’m not really doing anything other than portraying these officers the way they would want to be remembered,” Castro said.
The only thing he asks in return for his work is that people share these stories – that they spread the word and remember these lives taken far too soon.
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