Youth’s death stuns students, staff members at high school
A Tonganoxie High School junior was found dead early Tuesday morning at a rural Leavenworth County location, the victim of an apparent suicide.
According to Leavenworth Undersheriff Dave Zoellner, Nathan Castle, 17, was found dead by a passerby about 2 a.m. at a bridge on 199th Street north of County Road 8. Zoellner said Castle was the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Zoellner said that Castle had apparently walked to the bridge from his home about a mile away. He was last seen about 11:30 p.m. at his home.
An obituary for Castle appears elsewhere on this page.
Friends and classmates who had known Castle since kindergarten gathered Tuesday at Castle's home. They described Castle as an artistic and creative person who liked to draw and make sculptures.
Jack Mathia said, "If it came to making it with his hands, he could do it very well."
Jimmy Walker agreed. "He was very imaginative he had a very wild imagination."
Trevor Kelly said, "And he was creative."
It was this creative streak that led Castle to talk about having a career in the visual arts.
"He wanted to work for Disney when he got older," Walker said.
Another dream was to make home movies, Walker added.
"He talked about getting a video recorder and making home movies together," Walker said. "It was one of those things we all wanted to do, but we never got around to doing it."
His friends said they would miss his sense of humor, and his energy and creativity.
Larry Percy, who has taught art in Tonganoxie schools since 1990, said Castle had been his student since seventh grade.
"He was extremely talented," Percy said. "He was willing to work in any media, and he tended to lean toward black and white. And when we did use color, he was always extremely vibrant with it. He was probably the best art student that I've had in a long, long time."
Percy's students' reactions to Castle's suicide have been mixed, he said.
"I have one young man who came in and has completed three paintings and is working on his fourth," Percy said. "So he is dealing with it by producing art that is inspired by Nathan."
Other students spent time Tuesday looking at Castle's artwork.
"They've been going through his portfolio and looking at the works of a very talented artist," Percy said.
For some time, the art teacher said, he'd noticed a disturbing change in Castle.
"There was a loss of a sense of hope," Percy said. "I saw it becoming more and more prevalent in his work, in his life, in our conversations. As a public school teacher, there's only so much I can say. I tried to focus on his work, on his talents. His mom and I had many, many long conversations about helping Nathan see those positives."
Other students at Tonganoxie High School were stunned Tuesday the news of Castle's death.
Mike Bogart, principal, described Castle as a very bright, likeable young man who had a close circle of friends at school.
Bogart said the school had enacted its crisis plan that includes having ministers, counselors and a school psychologist available to talk to students.
Also, he said, the school provided places on the school grounds where students could go to be alone or to talk with friends.
Some students opted to stay at home, or to return home after they heard the news.
"We have about 25 to 30 young people who are not here today because of Nathan's death," Bogart said.
School superintendent Richard Erickson called the death a tragedy.
"Our prayers go out to the family," he said.