Richard Castaldo has a bullet permanently lodged in his spine from when, at 17 years old, he was shot eight times by two peers at Columbine High School.
Castaldo and his friend, Rachel Scott, were sitting outside during their lunch break on April 20, 1999, when fellow students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold began shooting. Richard and Rachel were the first students hit.
“They shot us both pretty much at the same time. It was all kind of one big spray,” Castaldo said.
He remembers waiting, bleeding for more than half an hour. Before help could arrive, Klebold and Harris returned.
“During that time I heard Rachel crying, and they came back and shot her in the head and I knew she was dead after that,” Castaldo said.
Castaldo fought for his life 13 years ago in Colorado and will spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair. Now, he is fighting to keep his condominium in Southern California. Like millions of Americans, he is about to lose his home to foreclosure.
Castaldo came to Los Angeles five years ago to attend a sound engineering school with dreams of pursuing a career in music. The Hollywood condo he bought in 2008 seemed like a wise investment at the time.
“I feel kind of stupid, honestly, because I should have known better,” he said. “I kind of bought into the notion that of course the condo was going to go up in value, which, of course, obviously it hasn’t.”
Castaldo’s story mirrors that of countless homeowners who were hit hard by the housing crisis and fell victim to predatory lending. He was advised to take an interest-only loan to buy an overpriced property.
In February, he fell behind on his mortgage payments. And while there were plenty of solicitors who offered to help, the assistance didn’t come without a hefty price.
“I get mailings every day from somebody, but of course they all want money up front,” Castaldo said.
Surfing the Internet, he found a group that knows all about eviction: Occupy Los Angeles.
Ever since their encampment was evicted from City Hall, they’ve made it their mission to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
“I feel like they’re really the only group that doesn’t have an ulterior motive,” Castaldo said.
At one of their meetings, he met a lawyer who is now trying to help him, but he doesn’t have much time. Castaldo’s condo is scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction in December.
“It’s nerve racking for sure,” he said.
In his 31 years, Castaldo has had a lifetime’s worth of extraordinary challenges, challenges he refuses to let define him.
“I’m not bitter in terms of me. I’m bitter that stuff like that in Aurora keeps happening,” he said, referring to a massacre inside a Colorado movie theater not far from Columbine High School. “It doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change.”
Change is what he was looking for when he came to California. And doesn’t want to go back to Colorado; Los Angeles is home now.