A song for Kayla, a message for the world

July 20, 2016 / by / 5 Comments

Josh Wathen (left) helped Kristyn Roberts write "Dancing by Your Side (Home Now)," a song that's a tribute to the late Kayla Castro. (Photo by Tyler McDonald)

Josh Wathen (left) helped Kristyn Roberts record “Dancing by Your Side (Home Now),” a song that’s a tribute to the late Kayla Castro. (Photo by Tyler McDonald)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

It was just a regular spring day. The two Grand Canyon University freshmen who had so much fun together, the pair from Escondido, Calif., who had become roommates by chance but fast friends seemingly by spiritual design, once again were turning the simplest of tasks into a joy.

Kristyn Roberts had come back to their Willow Hall suite that afternoon and found Kayla Castro getting ready to go hiking. They agreed that they needed to take out several bags of trash that had accumulated — the end of the semester and time to move out was only a few days away — so off they went, “laughing and being silly,” Roberts remembers.

Kayla Castro always seemed to have a smile on her face, Roberts says.

Kayla Castro always seemed to have a smile on her face, Roberts says.

Just like always.

“Me and Kayla, I feel like we’re very similar, personality wise,” Roberts says. “We’re both really outgoing. We’d always dress up funny or make funny, weird videos and just kind of be crazy and have dance parties in our room.”

Just three hours after they parted that day, Kayla was fighting for her life in a Scottsdale hospital. The hike on Camelback Mountain had turned into a rock-climbing adventure — Kayla loved adventures — and she had fallen 60-100 feet.

Roberts was one of about 15 friends who rushed to the hospital and waited there for hours until Kayla’s family could drive from California. As the group sat there on into the night, Roberts found that her prayers moved her to one inescapable conclusion: True to her training in the Worship Arts program at GCU, she needed to write a song about her friend.

“I just felt like God was telling me, ‘You can do this. I want you to do this for her,’” she says.

Kayla first was given a slim chance to live, but one percent became 50 percent and then 75 percent and then … inexplicably, horribly, she took a turn for the worse and passed away 10 days after the accident.

Makayla Samantha Cook-Castro was only 18 years old.

Now Kristyn knew what she had to do. She just knew. She had to write the song for Kayla. And she had to make it the best song she’s ever written.

“It was really hard for me to write down what I wanted to say because every time I would start thinking about it I would get really upset,” Roberts says.

Roberts says Kayla reflected her passion for life and for God in many ways.

Roberts says Kayla reflected her passion for life and for God in many ways.

But write it she did, with help from her friend Josh Wathen, also a sophomore majoring in Worship Arts, a few days after Kayla had died. Once they got going, it took them only five hours, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on a night when sleep again would have to take a back seat to grief.

“I knew what I wanted to say, so I would write little sentences like ‘She’s home now,’ and ‘Dancing by Your side,’” Roberts says. “And then when I went to Josh I basically just typed out everything I wanted to say, and he helped me put it into lyric form.”

Says Wathen, “I never met Kayla, but I’d been helping Kristyn with other songs before this. She felt comfortable coming up to me and sharing what was on her heart about the situation.”

They used the GCU recording studio to do the vocals for “Dancing by Your Side (Home Now),” a fitting tribute to the happy-go-lucky girl who Roberts says “was so full of life.” (Here’s the video.) Even now that she’s gone, Kayla’s spirit lives on in those who felt lucky just to know her.


Verse 1:

You were ready for her

You reside here in this pain

As mourning turns to light, we’ll forever ask You why

But it’s OK, ’cause she’s dancing by Your side

Verse 2:

We’ll forever miss her, everything she ever did

Never let a minute pass her by, truly was the brightest light

But it’s OK, ’cause she’s dancing by Your side


Kristyn and Kayla actually met before they got to GCU, at a summer camp a few years ago. They had mutual friends in Escondido but didn’t really know each other, and when they finally met it was a brief encounter. Little did they know that fate would intervene when Roberts was looking for a roommate for her freshman year of college.

“I’ve never even had grandparents or animals pass away. This is just crazy because I’d never really experienced losing someone so close to me.”

Kristyn Roberts

“It was completely by accident,” she says. “I found on the portal this one girl I wanted to room with, and she said, ‘Oh, I’m already rooming with someone, but you could be my suitemate.’

“And I said, ‘Oh, OK. Who are you rooming with?’ She said, ‘This girl named Kayla I met on the GCU Discover trip.’ And I said, ‘What’s her last name?’ When she told me, I said, ‘I know who she is!’”

The fact that they were from the same hometown made it a natural fit. The fact that they were so similar made it perfect. Their relationship was indicative of a suite that was pretty sweet for freshmen trying to get the hang of college life.

“We were pretty close, especially the first semester because we’re all trying to find friends and get used to being in college,” Roberts says. “The six of us, as roommates and suitemates, would hang out together in the room and watch movies and go out to all the events together.”

It was such a happy time and then, just like that, it was over. If ever there was a reminder to treasure every living moment — even when you’re just doing an everyday chore — this is it.

“I’ve never even had grandparents or animals pass away,” Roberts says. “This is just crazy because I’d never really experienced losing someone so close to me. One day she’s here and we’re taking out the trash, and three hours later she’s fighting for her life.”



She was awed by Your beauty in a painful, messed-up world

Her love of life and people outshined the very worst

Although we want her back here and we wish she never left

We prayed, “Oh God, please heal her.”

And that’s exactly what You did

It’s all right, it’s OK, ’cause she’s home now


Kayla’s smile and spirit set her apart. Even when things went wrong, she made them right.

“She had her struggles, but she always had a smile on her face no matter what,” Roberts says. “One time she dyed her hair and it turned bright orange and she was like, ‘OK, I guess I’m having orange hair!’

“She always was so positive about everything. When she died, it was just so hard not to think, ‘Why did it have to be her?’”

Kayla wasn’t one to shy away from a challenge. The hike that day was just part of her M.O.

“She would go on so many adventures,” Roberts says. “She loved that. She definitely was kind of a little daredevil. She had no fear. She would go on weekend trips and she’d go camping, and she loved to go hiking and she’d climb up on stuff. She thought it was the coolest thing to explore God’s world.”


Verse 3:

She changed everyone she knew

She pointed people back to You

The way she loved was so divine, she made the most of all her time

But it’s OK, ’cause she’s dancing by Your side


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but too often it is wasted worshipping at the feet of the rich and famous. For years, Michael Jordan’s advertisements for Gatorade urged America to “Be like Mike,” and, truth be told, few people need much prompting.

But out in the real world there are plenty of people who deserve far more acclaim. Kayla was a leader — the Finance and Economics major was a member of GCU’s Honors College. Her popularity wasn’t worldwide, but it certainly was far-reaching. Be like Mike? Better to be like Kayla.

“She was always positive no matter what,” Roberts says. “In a year of living with her I never saw her upset once, even when things weren’t going her way or she was getting a bad grade or she was frustrated. She was so in love with life. She always had a smile on her face and was so outgoing and just joyful.

“From the day that I first met her, I was so inspired. I met her and I was like, ‘This girl is so incredibly happy.’ Especially when things would go wrong, she was like, ‘It’s OK! It’s all good!’ I just wanted to be more like her.”



We’re in the shadow of Your wings

Through the pain and through the suffering

If only we had eyes to see

She’s in the arms of her King


“A lot of my songs,” says Roberts, who goes by Kristyn Marie when her music is published, “I feel like God is putting it on my heart and giving me the words and helping me be inspired. But this one, it was crazy how it all came together.”

“Dancing by Your Side (Home Now)” is available on iTunes. Kayla’s family also has set up the Live Like Kayla Foundation, which will seek to provide educational scholarships and programs for young adults in Escondido.

Roberts plans to give whatever proceeds she receives for the song to Kayla’s foundation or directly to the family. To this day, she still can’t believe this all happened.

“It was really shocking because we all thought she was going to pull through this,” she says. “She was a very strong girl. She had so much more to give and so much more love for Jesus to spread.”

But even after she’s gone, Kayla still is spreading that love through those who knew her best. A joy to behold. A joy that needs to be told. What better way than a song that came straight from heaven.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or rick.vacek@gcu.edu.



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5 Responses
  1. Mckenzie Cook

    May God bless you and Kayla! May Kayla’s life and light from heaven give us strength and understanding. Thank you for your tribute to Kayla. Her work is just beginning and through the “Live like Kayla” foundation others will be blessed by God & Kayla. It is relationships like the one you had with Kayla that inspire me to keep Kayla’s spirit alive so that others can live like Kayla. With the family’s love, respect, admiration and sincere appreciation. Allison and Larry Castro, mother/father, and McKenzie Cook and Mary Lou Cook, Kayla’s grandparents

    Jul.20.2016 at 4:11 pm
  2. Rosemary Holt

    Kristyn, You and I have never met, but your mom and I have known each other since we were babies. I know she and your dad are beyond proud, as is the rest of your very large family. You are a beautiful young woman with a bright future ahead of you. Keep up the great work! Much love to your grandparents, Tom and Mary! Don’t listen to any stories they might have on your mom and I — we were perfect children. I could tell you some funny stories about your great grandmother. Praying for much success!

    Jul.20.2016 at 5:44 pm
  3. Tom Sutton

    Kristyn, Very moving article but more important a very moving & spiritual song. You are very talented & have a great career ahead of you. Kayla would be so proud of the tribute you have given her through your music. Love You, Uncle Tom

    Jul.21.2016 at 2:34 pm
  4. Williams Michael

    While all lives are precious in every way, there comes a long one who totally inspire you to go further, smile harder, love more than normal and be generous with you heart in way love can only supply. My heart felt sympathy in with the bereaving family, but joyous for Kayla as she now knows a greater rest than we understands she is undertaking and a far far greater path of travel many of us, still have yet to travel. As a Alumni, I cherish every scholar in simplicity of word of mouth and/or in heights of grandeur, I myself am striving to acquire equally in talents and in humility. this articles says, so much more than the beauty of word s, it commemorates a fellow friend, loved one, mother to be, and social entrepreneur. It is a never ending story of someone, we all know, when gone to soon,
    Respectfully Yours,
    A Follower of Christ!

    Aug.02.2016 at 5:18 pm
  5. Burt

    Beautiful tribute
    Written with love
    May her memory be a blessing for all

    Aug.19.2016 at 6:07 am
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