Stamford Advocate

‘We’re going to tell your stories forever’

Family, friends and colleagues mourn New Haven officer who died in Las Vegas crash

- By Ben Lambert

NEW HAVEN — Family, friends and colleagues gathered at St. Mary Parish Friday to mourn Officer Joshua Castellano, rememberin­g him as a man of irrepressi­ble energy and heart.

Castellano, a seven-year member of the department, was killed last Friday in a crash in Las Vegas. He was 35.

As he began his sermon, the Rev. John Paul Walker noted Castellano kept a quote from the Book of Joshua on or near him at all times — “I command you, be strong and steadfast, do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.”

It was a “perfect” piece of Scripture for a police officer, Walker said, both as a sentiment and a theologica­l choice. The passage, he said, is spoken to the biblical Joshua, as he is told to consider the concept of law without fear.

“Thus it points to something very important for us, a truth that is true for all times and all places — the inherent goodness of the law. For we who are citizens, the law protects us; it defends us. The law, ought to at least free us from fear and protect us from all harm,” said Walker. “Being protected and defended from fear and from harm, so as to live in authentic freedom, is something good — and I would say something holy.”

Walker said the nobility of Castellano’s life, through his work to better the world and sense of “self-sacrificia­l love” for those around him, brought to mind the example of Jesus Christ, who, according to the faith, gave up himself so the “legacy of sin and death, the mourning and crying and pain that is ours for a time in this world, might not have the final say.”

Officer Jeremy Mastroiann­i, Matthew Sapienza and Interim Chief Renee Dominguez shared memories of Castellano.

Mastroiann­i said Castellano was his best friend, as well as his partner within the department. He opened his remarks with a story.

As they worked together, Mastroiann­i said, Castellano routinely would take something dear to Mastroiann­i — his phone, his keys — and jokingly require him to compliment him three times before returning them. Mastroiann­i would refuse; they’d go back and forth for hours.

But today, Mastroiann­i said, Castellano would get his wish.

“You were the coolest kid I ever met. The stuff we went through together was crazy; it was like a movie,” said Mastroiann­i. “But through all the running and gunning, all the jokes and laughing, you had my back no matter what. You were loyal to a fault. I’d follow you to the darkest, pitch black corners of the city, and I felt good because I was with you.”

Mastroiann­i said he and Castellano routinely got into foot chases with potential suspects; it became a hallmark of their time together. They called each other “Nitro Hawk and Turbo Falcon,” playing on a coffee offered by Dunkin’ Donuts; they loved telling stories.

Mastroiann­i said he had asked Castellano to be his best man at his wedding next year. His voice thick with emotion, Mastroiann­i chuckled as he said that he had bought an expensive bottle of whiskey to give him on the occasion.

Now, Mastroiann­i said, he would save the bottle. When the time came, he said share it with his future son, whom he would name Joshua, and tell of his friend.

“I never told you this, but you were my big brother. I looked up to you so much,” said Mastroiann­i. “I love you, Josh. We all love you. We’re going to tell your stories forever.”

Sapienza said he had known Castellano for a long time. He said writing his remarks had been a struggle — it had been difficult to be in positive and uplifting place given the grief and pain of the moment. Regardless, he felt compelled to get there, as it’s what Castellano would have done.

“Josh was never a complainer. He never was ‘woe is me.’ He would always cheer you up, but I can’t even remember the last time I had to cheer him up. And I think that’s because he was all about making the most of life,” said Sapienza. “He found or created fun in every situation. It didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing — if Josh was around, you were going to be cracking up over something.”

Sapienza said Castellano served as an example of what really matters in life. He was one of the smartest people he ever met, “in a way a thousand diplomas couldn’t touch”; he made true friends in every aspect of his life.

“He came from ordinary, humble beginnings and he became one of the most loved people in this entire city, and everywhere else he went,” said Sapienza. “He did it one friend at a time; friend by friend by friend, he garnered all of our love.”

Dominguez said she was honored to have the chance to speak, but troubled by it — how could she adequately describe what Castellano meant to his colleagues, sum up all the love they had for him?

She noted she had drafted Castellano from the academy and served as his first supervisor. She needed an officer who could walk the beat in a high-crime housing complex, hand out candy to delight children at Halloween, garner respect and bring comfort to those in pain at crime scenes.

Castellano, she said, could do all those things, and brought spirit and verve to his efforts. Asked to hand out candy, he replied, “I have the perfect costume,” Dominguez said.

“Every supervisor he ever worked for fell in love with him. Every one of us wanted 10 more Joshes. We wanted to fill every new vacancy with Josh, because he was just that good. He just got it,” said Dominguez. “He gave 100 percent, never complained, and did it with a smile.”

Dominguez credited Castellano’s mother, Denise, for raising him to become the kind of man that “not only made him an officer loved by his peers, but his supervisor­s and the community members he served.” The department would be with Denise, she said, now and in the future, providing whatever was needed — a shoulder to cry on, or someone to mow the lawn.

Dominguez noted she had said last week that Castellano had “that thing you can’t teach.”

Another officer clued her into what that thing was, she said. It was heart, which in the department is an acronym: honor, excellence, accountabi­lity, respect, tenacity.

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