Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Flower Mound nonprofit celebrates legacy of hometown hero

Jennifer Carrillo’s son may be gone, but she can still see a little bit of Duke in everyone.

She sees her late son in his twin brother Dylan and younger brother Jake, who, just like their brother, dreamed of being naval aviators and are now proudly serving their country in the Navy. She sees Duke’s integrity and leadership shining bright in students at his alma mater, Flower Mound High School — many of them preaching the mantra to Live Like Duke .

With tears in her eyes, she watches as community members take time out of their day to sit on a memorial bench at Shadow Ridge Park — each draping one arm across the back of the bench to signify that Duke is with them in that moment.

“He was a special kid and accomplished so much in his short life,” Jennifer said. Duke was 21 years old when he died at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on February 8, 2020, from an undiagnosed heart condition. “It’s something you can never prepare for, but we want nothing more than to honor his memory.”

She added, “We are turning this situation into an immense positive.”

Jennifer and Gerald Carrillo, along with their sons Dylan and Jake, started the Duke Carrillo Foundation in March 2020 as a legacy to Duke’s life and a helping hand to those pursuing education. The foundation’s dual purpose is to provide scholarships to dependents of military families and to fund the Naval Academy’s Duke Carrillo Scholars Fund.

To date, the non-profit has raised over $75,000 and awarded six scholarships to graduating seniors from Flower Mound. The plan is to expand districtwide with Lewisville ISD, then go statewide and nationwide.

“Aviation is very important in our family, so we wanted to make that part of our mission statement,” Jennifer said. “We want to help people who are dependents of military families, men and women who are already at the academy, kids who want to get into aviation, and even those who are already in aviation but need help moving their careers along. Duke would love all the good things we are doing now.”

Duke was fiercely loyal with the strength of a giant and the tenderness of a teddy bear. He was always surrounded by friends and would commonly host dinners, parties, and get-togethers — never once asking for any help, just wanting to have a good time. He and his brothers were hometown kids and were known as the Carrillo Trio. They went to all the nearby schools, played at all the neighborhood parks, and even earned Eagle Scout badges through Troop 451.

Duke devoted himself to academics and sports. He was a three-year varsity letterman for the Jaguars in football and an accomplished wrestler. In his spare time, he loved hunting, fishing, shooting rifles, and archery. After he and Dylan graduated from high school in 2017, Duke first attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, before moving on to Annapolis. At the Academy, Duke was a Quantitative Economics major and had exemplary grades.

Sadly, everything came to an abrupt halt on February 8, 2020, when Duke collapsed during the one-and-a-half mile run portion of the Physical Readiness Test that all midshipmen participate in every six months. His heart condition was undiagnosed despite myriad military testing requirements and health protocols.

Dylan and Jake were by his side in the hospital when he died.

“You spend your life protecting your kids, and then the one time you aren’t looking, the worst happens,” Jennifer said. “Dylan got there as they were putting him in the ambulance, and we find comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by people he loved.”

Jennifer said that shortly after Duke’s death, the Naval Academy instituted more vigorous heart testing standards for Midshipmen by giving each of them a 12-lead ECG. The goal is to eventually expand this protocol to all military branches.

“They’ve managed to save several young lives because of those testing standards,” she said.

As for Duke, the Carrillos say his legacy will never be forgotten — regardless of how well the foundation moves forward. But right now, they’re happy riding an inspirational wave of momentum that one day will expand beyond Flower Mound.

Duke wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We are still in our infancy as a foundation, but we’ve raised quite a bit of money so far and want to keep growing,” Jennifer said. “We want this to stand the test of time, and the best way to do that is to let people know it exists and to share Duke’s story.”

For more information on Duke’s story and the Duke Carrillo Foundation, including scholarships, opportunities to donate, and future initiatives such as the 2 nd annual Live Like Duke Benefit on November 19 at Circle R Ranch, visit dukecarrillofoundation.org .

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