Andrea Castilla, a Sephora cast member in Huntington Beach, had a special ritual she would do every day when she came in to work. When a client walked in wearing an outfit she loved, Andrea would run up to them, ask them where they got it, and jot it down on a small piece of paper. By the end of the day, her pockets would be filled with tiny squares — a pair of shoes here, a handbag there. To her, they were simple reminders to tuck away for her next shopping trip — to everyone else, they were the brightest part of their day.
“Andrea had the gift of lifting people’s spirits. She would always give genuine compliments that would automatically make me feel better,” her coworker America Napoles says. Adds her brother Adam Castilla, “She knew her smile could make anyone’s day so much better. Even if she had nothing in common with the person, they would be delighted just to talk to her.”
In a devastating turn of events, Andrea’s life — one that was dedicated to bringing joy and beauty to others — was cut short on October 1st this year when she was among the 58 victims killed at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. It was the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history since the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, which claimed 49 lives, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which killed 26 people including 20 young children, and the Virginia Tech Shooting in 2007, when 32 students and faculty were murdered.
Andrea was in Las Vegas in October to celebrate her 28th birthday with her boyfriend Derek Miller, her sister Athena, who lived there, and her sister’s boyfriend. Andrea was smiling, dancing, and uploading stories to her Instagram just moments before the gunfire started. Andrea yelled “Duck!” to those around her before she was struck in the head herself. “I believe she saved my other sister and their boyfriends that night,” Adam says. Despite her family’s and strangers' heroic efforts to carry her to safety, she died upon being admitted to the hospital that night.
She knew her smile could make anyone’s day so much better.
In the weeks following her death, her father Gus filed a wrongful death lawsuit against MGM Resorts International (which operates Mandalay Bay), concert promotor Live Nation, and Slide Fire Solutions, which manufactures the "bump stock" accessory. "We are sickened by how this cowardly shooter was able to purchase 33 guns this last year without raising any red flags," says Adam. "Also, how's it possible to obtain an attachment, such as a bump stock, with no serial tracking and enabling him access to pretty much machine guns which took our Andrea and many other sweet souls away?" Adam hopes the lawsuit raises awareness not just around gun control, but also for better security in places like hotels as well as proper exits out of venues. "Andrea would have wanted this. She had so much going on for herself, and so many dreams, and to have it taken away from this coward," says Adam. "She would have wanted us to go as far as we can to make sure this doesn't happen to someone else."
As Andrea's family, friends, and coworkers continue to process their loss, they are also committed to making sure her story — and her passion for helping others — lives on. Since October, the Sephora store in Huntington Beach where Andrea worked has been flooded with flowers. Big, colorful bouquets with heartfelt notes and photos of her line the white lacquered cabinets in the back of the store, reminding customers and coworkers of Andrea’s life — one that inspired them every day. Adam says that the store employees had custom pins made with butterflies, which Andrea loved, and they wear them to work every day. “She just loved to help all people,” says Jolie Werking, the store’s director. “She made each client feel like her friend by asking them about their day and how they were doing. It was clear that she truly cared about their answers."
Andrea’s passion for beauty and self care started when her mother, who died from cancer when Andrea was just 14, was going through chemotherapy. “When my mom was battling cancer, she would constantly do her makeup and dress her up. Even when my mother was super weak, it would bring a huge smile to her face,” says Adam. Andrea carried that gift to her job at Sephora, where she participated in the store’s Brave Beauty In The Face of Cancer classes, a program that provides makeup, skin, and hair services as well as training for those who have cancer.
After working closely with several cancer survivors, Andrea told her brother Adam that she had finally found her calling. “There were a few who lost their hair and eyebrows and she would do their makeup and they’d be super happy and giggly,” Adam says. “She was so good at making you forget anything negative in your life at that moment. It would all just go away when she was there.”
Andrea took Adam to breakfast on Friday, September 29 (two days before the Route 91 festival), to celebrate their shared birthday. She was turning 28 and he, 33. There, she told him that she was ready to take the next step in her beauty career and wanted to focus specifically on working with those affected by cancer. “She told me she wanted to pursue that direction because it reminded her of mom,” Adam says. “That was our last conversation. It was her finding what she was truly passionate about.”
And it wasn’t just a career passion Andrea found during her time at Sephora — it was also where she met the love of her life: her boyfriend Derek. Derek visited the store over a year ago, where he saw Andrea for the first time. After dropping by multiple times, Derek’s mom finally spilled to Andrea that he had a crush on her. Andrea expressed her shared interest in him, and the two were inseparable after that. “I think everyone knew the story of how her boyfriend, Derek, got the courage to ask her out,” says Werking. “When she started dating him, she became even more happy than she usually was. I still remember her telling me when he told her that he loved her for the first time. She was kind of just floating around with a big smile on her face — we were all so happy for her.”
Derek designed a custom moonstone engagement ring — Andrea's late mother also had a moonstone ring, Adam says — and had planned to propose, get married, and start a family with Andrea. It was the most joyful time of her life — before tragedy struck. “I feel like in [those last] few weeks, she was so happy with everything in her life,” Adam says. “She had an amazing boyfriend, she loved what she did for work, she loved who she was with, she loved this new dream and cause she was shooting for, and she loved dancing and country and my sister who lives in Las Vegas. She was so excited to go spend her birthday weekend there and go to this country festival. We lost true beauty with this shooting. It shouldn’t have happened. She was not ready — she did not want to go.”
While the family is still taking the time they need to grieve, they plan to honor Andrea's life and carry on her dream of helping people going through cancer — a cause inspired by her mother's own fight. "When I got her car back [from the venue], she still had my mom's driver's license in the center console," says Adam. "Starting in the new year, we'll be putting together a foundation for her. She was so selfless and always doing things for other people. I know she would have loved that."