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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Overland Park police officers say losing a young officer to COVID-19 is hitting them hard. One of 23-year-old Officer Freddie Castro’s friends said his battle inspired him to get vaccinated.

Castro made a huge impact on the department in the short time he was with them. Less than a week ago, Chief Frank Donchez was hopeful Castro would pull through. However, Tuesday he lost his fight with the virus.

Officers with the department said his legacy will live on long past the pandemic.

“Don’t take your time with the people you care about for granted,” Officer Andrew Lillich said.

Lillich considers Castro a brother. They studied law enforcement together at the academy, they were sworn in weeks apart, and worked together every day.

“It was just fun. No matter how grumpy I may have come to work – seeing Freddie put a smile on your face. He was a fun guy. Always laughing, always smiling. You couldn’t help but have that same energy,” Lillich said.

Lillich said they were supposed to go on a double date, but Castro got sick.

“I was a little worried, but at the same time it just kept going through my head – he’s healthy, he doesn’t have anything going on. He’ll beat it,” Lillich said.

Soon after going to the hospital, Lillich was visiting him, and not long after that he was on a ventilator.

Castro struggled to recover for 37 days, 35 of them were on a ventilator. He suffered several strokes while he was being treated at North Kansas City Hospital and many of his organs began to fail. He died Tuesday afternoon with is family by his side.

“Devastating. It’s not something you expect to get. Hearing that one of your friends at 23 years old. You don’t expect that. It’s hard to handle,” Lillich said.

Castro wasn’t vaccinated when he caught COVID-19. Neither was Lillich, but when he saw Castro in the hospital he knew it was time to get the shot.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the leading cause of me getting vaccinated,” Lillich said.

Lillich said Castro wasn’t opposed to the vaccine but thought if he got sick he would easily recover.

“It was simply that everything we were hearing is that young people were overcoming it. I’ve realized that’s taken a turn since cases jumped again in July. It’s definitely something I’m going to take more seriously,” Lillich.

For Overland Park’s Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Brandon Faber, this is the third officer he’s lost in the past 15 months. He said for more than a year it’s felt like they were trying to come out of a fog, and things were getting better when they got the news about Officer Castro, and the feelings came rolling back.

“It’s getting kinda tough burying our people,” Faber said.

He said about 75% of the department is vaccinated. He’d like that to be 100%.

“My hope is that it does drive more people to get vaccinated,” Faber said.

Castro’s goal in life was to make a positive impact in his community. His brothers say what Castro embodied will live on each time they put on their uniform.

“People like that are who we need, and who we want, and Freddie was one of those guys,” Faber said.

“I want him to live through us,” Lillich said. “I’m going to try and take that smile and positive attitude and maybe help other people enjoy working there a little more.”

Castro’s family and the department are working to put together his funeral plans. There is no date at this time.

The Overland Park Police Officer’s Foundation is currently raising funds to help Castro’s family through their foundation. Faber says it’s a program he and fallen officer, Mike Mosher, put together. He said Mosher would be happy knowing the foundation he put together is helping another fallen officer’s family immediately with their needs. There is an option to donate specifically to the Castro family.