Editor’s Note: Forty-five-year-old Roman Castillo of Albuquerque, New Mexico, didn’t know when he opened the door for two policemen that his life would be changed forever. See how his music, his love for drums, carried him through his journey in life after SCI.
How My Life Changed
In 2005, I heard a banging on my door early in the morning, and a loud voice that said, “Open up. This is the police.” I looked through the peep hole of my door, and I saw a man dressed in a policeman’s uniform and another man, so I opened the door.
I knew I had nothing to worry about if I opened the door to a police officer.
Through the peep hole, I only had seen the officer’s shoulder and the top of his head. I assumed that the police officers were coming to notify me about someone in my family having had an accident or perhaps there had been a death in the family. So, I didn’t hesitate to open the door.
Later, I learned that the man who had on the police officer’s uniform had stolen the uniform from a police officer. Besides the uniform, the criminal also had stolen the police officer’s personal .22. The two men rushed me, took me into my back room and made me face the wall.
One of the men had the gun against the back of my head and told me, “Pray.” I replied, “I don’t think God is going to help me now.” The man holding the pistol said, “Wrong answer.” The man who had the gun against the back of my head squeezed the trigger, but the gun misfired. I learned that the .22 caliber bullet is one of the most reliable bullets that a person can shoot. But for some reason, the gun didn’t fire that time.
I turned around quickly and started to fight back.
I had participated in martial arts and boxing all of my life. So, I felt confident that I could defend myself. While we were scuffling, the thug fired two shots into the back of my neck. The bullets passed through my neck and missed the jugular vein on each side of my neck by about one millimeter.
When I got my hand on the hand that was holding the gun, I saw that the gun was pointed right at my heart. But I moved quickly enough to get the gun off target, and the third bullet went through my shoulder, instead of my heart. The bullet traveled through my T9 vertebra and bounced up to my T8 vertebra, and I was instantly paralyzed. I fell flat on my face.
Immediately, I realized I was paralyzed. Looking at the floor, I heard the words, “Son, you have to finish him.”
I couldn’t move, but I knew what was about to happen. I felt the gun against the back of my neck, and my assailant pulled the trigger. I could hear the echo of the gun’s firing, bouncing off the concrete walls of my house. Although I was conscious and aware of what was going on around me, I played dead, hoping that the men thought they had accomplished their goal, would take what they wanted and leave. I learned later that the bullet that was intended to kill me flattened out under my skin and didn’t enter my skull.
My mom and I had been making homemade salsa at my house. I was able to crawl into the kitchen, pick up a jar of salsa and throw it through a window. I threw several jars out the window. When only two jars were left, I threw the next to the last jar of salsa out the window, which finally got the attention of a little lady, who probably weighed less than 90 pounds. She lived in the same apartments where I did.
The last thing I remember was seeing her open the door coming into my apartment. Then I passed out. Later, I heard that the paramedics gave me CPR for 15 minutes before they could get a pulse.
Luckily, when my neighbor called 911, she spoke to my cousin with the fire department dispatch who was answering the 911 calls that day. She said, “Roman Castillo is bleeding to death from gunshot wounds.” Then, she gave him the address of my apartment. My cousin kept the little lady calm until the paramedics arrived at the scene.
Later, I learned that my cousin had arrived at the hospital before I got there, and already had started donating blood, because I had a fairly rare blood type.I also learned later that my mother had gone to my house to have coffee with me, because she and I always had coffee together in the morning.
When she reached the doorway of my apartment, she saw the yellow crime scene tape that the police officers had used to keep people out of the crime scene. The police officers told my mom that I had been shot, and she needed to go to the hospital to see me.
Roman’s Journey Back to Life After SCI
I was in a coma for 14 days. After I came out of the coma, I learned what had happened. The second day after I woke up, the physical therapist had me in a wheelchair and started teaching me how to roll myself around in the wheelchair. I was taken to Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital here in Albuquerque, where I had phenomenal care.
While I was in rehab, I learned that the two men who had shot me had been captured. When the police questioned the man and his son as to why they targeted my house to break into, they admitted that my apartment was just randomly chosen, possibly because I had a nice car out in front of it.
In other words, this type of break-in could have happened to anyone.
They just kept asking me for money. They had previously attacked other people in the neighborhood and also asked them for money. Both men were dope addicts and were trying to get money to buy dope. They said they shot me because I had seen their faces and could identify them.
At their trial, the judge said to the father, “Because of your service in Vietnam, I’m only going to give you a 3-year sentence for home invasion and attempted murder.” The son of the Vietnam vet, who actually pulled the trigger and shot me, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but he got out of prison in 8 years. After he was released, he committed suicide.
Why I Never Gave Up My Music After My Injury
I was 34 years old when I was shot. I asked my grandmother who since has passed away, “What am I going to do to support my family?” She told me, “Why don’t you just keep playing the drums, because that is a talent God has given you?” She was a big encouragement to me to keep on keeping on, and I’m now in my 11th year of being a survivor.
Before being shot, I was a musician. I played the drums. Even after I was shot, I never gave up my love of music.
As soon as I was physically able, I started playing my drums again. My big break came when I posted a drum solo on YouTube. The magazine “New Mobility” became interested in me, and did a story on me in 2014.
Because of that article, I had a good number of people write me and tell me how inspired they were by my article and that I continued to play my drums without the use of adaptive equipment. The drums aren’t the only instrument I play. I play the guitar, the bass guitar, the accordion, the piano and the harmonica too, and I sing lead vocals.
I’ve received quite a few calls asking me do seminars and inspirational speaking engagements. Also, I teach students to play the drums and other instruments. I have two students now that I’m teaching how to play drums. One of my students has muscular dystrophy, and the other student has cerebral palsy.
I have my own website now too: www.romanabq.com. There you can see the videos of drum solos that I’ve done from my wheelchair.
Watch Roman Castillo Perform a Drum Solo
Before I was injured, I worked as a rigger and a roadie for several different bands, including Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Pink Floyd and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
I was on tour almost constantly. I traveled all over this county. I had several opportunities to go overseas with various bands, however, I wasn’t comfortable leaving the USA. So, I stayed here.
Besides being a roadie and a rigger, I was a drum tech. To be a drum tech, you also have to be a professional drummer. If you’re not a professional drummer, you can’t set-up another professional drummer’s drum set. I didn’t become a solo drummer until after I was paralyzed. I was what was known as a studio musician.
Although people heard me on many, many albums, no one knew who I was. Sometimes a drummer can’t make it to the studio when his band’s album is being cut. So, a band will use a studio musician who knows how to read notations and play the parts that the regular drummer usually will play.
All that time with the different bands I had played with, I had learned how to be a professional musician. I worked with big bands for about 20 years before I got shot. I’d been playing drums since I was 9 years old. After two years of rehab, I could play my drums as well as I did before I was injured.
I did have to reconfigure my drum set, but I didn’t use any special adaptive equipment to play.
Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, suggested that I not use any adaptive equipment. After trying electronic drums, he went back to acoustic drums. He found that there was a delay in the sound when using the electronic drums.
I’m also an engineer. So, I’ve engineered my truck to carry my drum set, go hunting, fishing, camping and take mychildren back and forth to school. When I was shot, my son was 5 years old, and my daughter was 6 years old. I’m a single parent, and I couldn’t have taken care for them, if not for my mother’s help. She took care of my children while I was in rehab, and today, my children are 16 and 17. Besides being a professional drummer, I was also a professional disc jockey. I did a lot of things to feed and take care of my family.
What about the Salsa Business and Me
My mom started making salsa when I was 12 years old, and we sold it. My mother had created her own recipe for salsa one day when she decided she wasn’t going to the store to buy salsa. Our company was called the Chili Collection, and we sold our salsa under that name. Recently, there has been a documentary made called “The Drummer and His Salsa.” The film is more or less the story of my injuries, my music and our salsa company, and it’s for sale on my website.
Albequerque native Steven Michael Quezada is the narrator of my documentary. He is perhaps best known for his role as DEA agent Steven Gomez in the AMC series Breaking Bad, which he played from 2008 to 2013.
To learn more about Roman Castillo, visit his website.
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites.
He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.