By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
In Seattle, Sebastian was shot with a pellet gun and suffered his worst beating, from a broken bottle. It sent him to the emergency room, but it didn't deter him.
"As an Angel, you get people who give you lip, who don't like you, who don't understand. They say you risk your life for nothing, but it's not for nothing. People appreciate you, they thank you," he says. "I was always attracted to being a hero, and I always enjoyed helping people. It's the best...and if people experienced it, they'd want to get a lot more of it. Maybe something is wrong with my ego, but I just need that, I love it. If you can get that from it, that's the best paycheck."
Of the four Guardian Angels walking Colfax, Sebastian isn't the oldest. Two are twenty-somethings, but sixty-year-old Doc has been an Angel as long as they've been in Denver. It's Doc who spots two kids sitting on their skateboards on a bench outside the Capitol and jumps on the recruitment opportunity.
"What are you guys?" one of the kids asks.
"We're Guardian Angels," Doc tells him.
"What do you do?"
"We help people."
Doc tells them that they can bring in their older brothers and sisters or their parents to the Angels headquarters for free self-defense classes.
"Will it help you to get into the cops or something?" the kid asks.
As the Angels approach a bus stop at Lincoln and Colfax and begin handing out fliers, Sebastian eyes potential members, but not as hard as some of the people at the bus stop are looking at him. Before the heart surgery, Doc says, Sebastian was one of the best recruiters the Angels had. But while the words used to roll right off his tongue, these days he struggles for them. His hands tremble. He forgets to watch where he's walking, takes a couple of steps and collides with a man on the corner.
"Arch Angel is a good recruiter and Doc is a good recruiter, and I'm probably just embarrassing them," Sebastian says. "Sometimes you feel like recruiting when you're out and sometimes you don't; it's like that Almond Joy commercial. But a bunch of guys walking around looking like candy canes? I mean, come on, it's laughable — if it wasn't so serious."
In 1989, Sebastian moved back to New York, where his life was a constant foot chase of purse-snatchers and window-breakers, fights and near-fights. On one patrol, a hooker sliced him with a box knife. In between the action, the Angels passed out fliers on the trains, even though security would harass them. At the end of the day, they'd be lucky to get a donated slice of pizza or a piece of Popeye's chicken with a stale biscuit. It was a different kind of life for Sebastian, but one he took to.
He spent part of his time on the road, starting or restarting chapters in Boston, New Haven, Bridgeport, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He also helped create a chapter in Toronto and was the first Angel to take the cause overseas — to London and Manchester, Berlin, Stockholm, Sydney and Brisbane.
Sebastian was the best man for the job, partly due to his Canadian background and his ability to adapt to any living situation, Sliwa says. Plus, he didn't drink or party, he was a good trainer, and he was one of the most media-savvy people in the group.
The call to Denver came in 1993, after gang-related shootings led to the deaths of several innocent people, including a six-year-old boy shot in a drive-by in Park Hill and a schoolteacher on her way home from work. The Summer of Violence, as it was called, led to national media headlines and a special legislative session.
Sebastian, who hadn't been to Colorado since his family left Drop City, set up shop on East Colfax with the help of Dave Walstrom, who was executive director of Colfax on the Hill and the Colfax Business Improvement District at the time.
Residents, business owners and community groups in Capitol Hill were looking for solutions, so Walstrom cordinated a series of public meetings and conversations with Sebastian. "We were so impressed with this young man; he was so persuasive and such a great salesperson," Walstrom remembers.
Sebastian met with the police and the Denver City Council. Denver police officer Snow White remembers Sebastian was always happy to help with Halloween parties hosted by the police department for inner-city kids. "He was a total go-to person," she says. "If you needed anything, you could call him."
By March 1994, Denver had a graduating class of 31 Angels, and the chapter launched right into the 24/7 program using an office space on 14th Avenue as a crash pad, with two bunk beds for the four volunteers; training took place at Rude Recreation Center.
Although there was some opposition to the Angels, the atmosphere in Denver was more welcoming than in most places, Sebastian says. In a city full of unique neighborhoods, residents are used to getting involved, he explains. They also have that Old West mentality of minding other people's business for the safety of everyone.