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Family teaching red flags of teen dating violence in wake of 19-year-old’s murder

‘She was fearless. I would have never thought this could have happened to her,’ Erin Castro’s mother says

SAN ANTONIO – When 19-year-old Erin Rios Castro was killed, it stunned her family. They had no idea she had been in an abusive relationship.

“She was fearless. I would have never thought this could have happened to her. And it just does go to show it can happen to anyone,” said her mother, Rena Castro. “She cared so much about other people. She had a lot of compassion. She had a strength about her that I admired so much.”

Castro now smiles when she talks about Erin. She has worked hard over the past year and a half to allow herself that happiness.

In September, 2018, just hours after her 19th birthday, Erin was in a car with her on-and-off boyfriend, Joshua Garcia. Police said Garcia stabbed Erin, pushed her out of the car and ran over her.

Man accused of stabbing, running over girlfriend hours after her birthday

It’s a terrifying image any family would try to forget, but Castro’s love for her daughter makes her push past that.

"I needed to find a positive and helping others has been a positive," she said.

At least twice a month, Castro visits high schools, talking to students about teen dating violence. Sometimes Erin’s friends will come along to share what they saw happening.

“We talk to the girls and the boys separately. They’re so interested and they want to know more. It shows that they’re listening and that they care,” Castro said. “Sometimes they don’t like what I have to say because getting an adult involved is number one.”

Castro hopes soon she will be able to include middle school students as well.

“Before they even start dating would be best. Just so they know, in their head somewhere would be, ‘OK, that’s a red flag,’” she said.

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Castro said one of the most crucial things is educating parents.

“I wish I had known things that I know now. I was very naive in thinking this was just a problem that had to do with adults, and I think a lot of parents think like that,” she said.

Castro and her family created the Justice for Erin Foundation in order to provide this education. On their social media pages and in those school sessions, they list red flags and explain that abuse is not just physical.

They instruct parents and students to look for verbal abuse:

  • Threats
  • Incessant calling
  • Constant accusations of cheating
  • Degrading/negative comments
  • Twisting partner’s words

They also want people to understand emotional abuse:

  • Isolation from family/friends
  • Intense jealousy/rage
  • Body shaming
  • Taking personal items
  • Constant Interrogations

The Justice for Foundation is now taking yet another step to help the community.

Castro and her team are holding the foundation’s first fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 22. The proceeds will go to a scholarship fund for any student who has been affected by domestic violence.

“Doesn’t have to be the actual person. They could have seen a friend go through it, an aunt go through it,” Castro said.

There is an application page on the foundation website. Castro said it’s not just for the highest-performing students. She said Erin was a star student until the abuse began, and then her grades began to drop.

The first annual Justice for Erin 5K Run/Walk is Saturday at 8 a.m. at Woodlawn Lake. Registration is at 7 a.m. For more info, head to the foundation website.

Anyone who suspects or is experiencing domestic violence can visit KSAT’s domestic violence section to find resources and a place to ask questions at the top of the page.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1(800) 799−7233 or TTY 1(800) 787−3224.

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