DeLeon knows Angie listened. One time, DeLeon called the transgender section of Livelinks, a singles chat line, to leave a prank message for a friend — and heard a recording of Angie. "She used her own name — Angie — she said she was from Greeley, she said she was transgender and she described herself," DeLeon says. "I recognized her voice. And I was like, oh look, it's Angie. And she's following my advice."

Still, when DeLeon heard that Angie had been murdered, her first thought was that she'd died at the hands of some man. "When I got there and they told me everything, I was like, oh, he definitely did it. He definitely did," DeLeon says. "I think that what it was is that he was just getting uncomfortable with the whole thing. But he could have just left. He didn't have to go to the extent of killing her."


Maria Zapata, mother

Angie Zapata and Rochelle Camacho.
Angie Zapata and Rochelle Camacho.
Angie Zapata (upper left), her brother, sisters, nieces and nephew took this family portrait for Angie's mother.
Angie Zapata (upper left), her brother, sisters, nieces and nephew took this family portrait for Angie's mother.

It was the stares that got to Maria Zapata. One day, when she and Angie were at the checkout stand at the Greeley Wal-Mart, she sensed that someone was staring at them and turned around. "I looked and I told my Angie, I said, 'Who in the hell are they looking at?'" recalls Maria, who is 54. "She said, 'Mom, they're just staring at me.' I turned around and I said, 'Don't you have anything else to stare at?'

"I hated for people to be looking at her, looking her up and down like [she was] trashy."

Even though Angie was the fifth of six children, she was always Maria's baby. When she talks about her, she calls her "my Angie." "There was just something about Angie," Maria says. "There was a sense from the beginning that I needed to protect her more than the rest."

Angie was born in Brighton on August 5, 1989, as Justin David Zapata. Justin was Maria's second son. By the time he was born, she'd been married and divorced once and had four children from three different relationships. Justin was a skinny kid with eyelashes so dark it looked like he was wearing mascara, she says. He was never interested in dump trucks or baseball bats, but he loved to play outside. The second he finished a meal, he'd run out the door to ride his bike.

But Justin's life was hard. Kids at school teased him for being effeminate and called him "faggot." Teachers weren't much better. "I remember her second-grade teacher said she went to the bathroom in the girls' bathroom (as Justin), that's disgusting," Maria says. "A lot of people didn't know, but they were ready to judge."

It got worse as Justin got older. "She wanted to get involved with sports, she wanted to get involved with school, but it always came out that the kids were so rude," Maria says. Justin tried to join the soccer team, the track team, the band. But the same thing always happened. "Kids said, 'There goes that weird guy. There goes that gay guy.'"

Maria knew her youngest son was different, and she was scared. "It's not that I didn't accept it," Maria says. "I was afraid for her because I knew how people are." She insisted that Justin wear boys' clothes and cut his hair short. But he was miserable.

"Finally, I just gave up," she says. "I thought, why am I putting my baby through misery? She's miserable enough as it is. I told her, 'Please just be careful. Be careful, because there are going to be people who won't accept it, and you're going to get hurt, baby.'"

Maria's own family — her mother was from Mexico, her father from Texas — had a hard time accepting Angie. "Growing up in the Mexican culture, woman is woman and man is man," Maria says. Maria's aunts and uncles "weren't rude to her, but the staring, the talking behind her back, that hurt my baby a lot. And that hurt me."

When Angie was in high school, she transferred from Fort Lupton High School to Brighton Collegiate High School, a charter school, in an attempt to escape the teasing. But it wasn't any better in Brighton, Maria says. Angie still got harassed, still got into fights, still had to defend herself. At sixteen, she decided to drop out.

"She wanted to do so much with her life, but because...people would not accept her and people were rude to her, she just didn't want to do it anymore," Maria says.

Instead, she went to work, first at Good Times and then as a babysitter for her sister Monica's kids. She wanted to save money to have a sex change, her mother says. Angie even saw a doctor in Denver, who explained to her about the counseling involved and what it's like to do hormone therapy. "But everything cost so much," Maria says. "If we would have been able to afford it, Angie would have been able to have that."

Early last year, Angie moved to Greeley, where Maria lives. She got a one-bedroom apartment two and a half blocks away. She wanted to try living on her own. Mother and daughter were close, but Angie didn't tell Maria everything. Maria knew Angie had tons of friends and dated occasionally. She knew she wanted a companion.

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