Longform

This Guardian Angel Bleeds Red

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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.

Sebastian remembers when a woman came into the Angels' office with a flier that had a picture of her runaway daughter. That same day, Sebastian found the girl on the 16th Street Mall. The mother and daughter later attended a Guardian Angels function to thank them for helping.

"Having eyes and ears on the street late at night — anecdotally, it was something we could see was having an impact," Walstrom says. "I think with everything that went on, in terms of the two premises of redevelopment of an urban corridor — safe and clean — the Angels definitely made a contribution with their presence."

Holly Brooks, the owner of Capitol Hill Books, at Colfax and Grant, remembers when a group of Angels first came into her store to explain their program. They wanted to seem paramilitary, she says, and they lockstepped up the street.

"They gave us a number to call if we needed help. I can't remember ever having used that," she says. "But anything would have had some kind of an impact, because it can be pretty wild here, especially a few years ago, when I would walk to my car and people would offer me drugs — and I have white hair! But you sort of get the feeling that once [the Angels] are half a block away, things go back to normal."

The chapter relocated to a storefront on Colfax at Lafayette, then to another spot in the Ramada Inn. They lived in the abandoned Brick Oven Beanery at Colfax and Ogden until it was torn down. Some of the members had full-time jobs, patrolling in the evenings or on weekends. But others stayed on duty 24 hours a day, keeping expenses to a minimum and surviving on small donations. The space that they used was donated, as was much of their food — coming from places like Taki's Japanese Restaurant.

"Colfax is much better with the Angels," says Hisashi Takimoto, owner of Taki's, at 341 East Colfax. "There are lots of homeless people around here, also lots of drunk people. They help with that."

Still a regional director at the time, Sebastian split his time between Denver and San Francisco until 1998, when he settled here permanently and paid the rent by doing weekend radio talk shows on 850 KOA and KTLK 760, covering topical events.

That same year, the Angels landed a contract to guard a church lot where Fillmore Auditorium concert-goers parked during shows. They used the money to rent a building on Colfax and Pearl, big enough to sleep four and hold self-defense training sessions. Although the kitchen was more like a break room, they had a refrigerator and an electric stove. Plus, it had a functioning shower.

Doc Webster was the chapter leader at the time. An Army veteran who did a short stint in Vietnam, he and his wife had graduated in the Angels' first class. Because of his day job as a nurse at the Denver VA Medical Center, Doc already had a rapport with a lot of the people he'd run into while patrolling Capitol Hill. The chapter had about twenty Angels whom Doc could count on each weekend. Meanwhile, Sebastian handled the books and fundraising, wrote newsletters and networked.

"Sebastian was just an amazing leader," says Robert "Jag" McClintick, another Denver founding member who went on to help start other chapters across the country.

"Very dedicated, a guy you could definitely depend on and count on, who throughout his time as a Guardian Angel was very heroic in many instances, too many to try to detail," he adds. "There were so many times when he was the guy in the middle of the heat of the battle and stood up and said, 'Hey, follow me.'"


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Luke Turf