But even though she could be tough, Angie was tender with her family. She'd listen to Stephanie talk about problems with her girlfriend and try to mediate fights between her sisters. "I think everybody, their number-one person to go to was Angie when they had a problem," Stephanie says. "Now that she's not around, we go to each other."
Gonzalo Zapata, brother
About three years ago, Gonzalo Zapata and his five siblings — Monica, Stephanie, Ashley, Angie and Nicole — decided to take a portrait for their mother for Christmas. They told Angie she had to dress as a boy. They wanted their mother to be happy; at the time, he says she was struggling to accept that her son Justin was really a girl who wanted to be called Angie. She was scared for what a transgender life might mean.
In that photo, it's clear that Angie is unhappy, Gonzalo says. Dressed in one of Gonzalo's sweaters, her long hair curled at the ends, she looks uncomfortable. Her smile looks fake. "We apologized later on," says Gonzalo, 25. "At the time, he understood it."
Gonzalo also initially had a hard time accepting that his brother was born in the wrong body. "It took me a while to accept that she wanted to dress as a girl because she and I were the only boys, and I wanted to have someone to talk to," he says. But eventually, Angie's bravery encouraged him to be honest about himself: Gonzalo, like Stephanie before him, told his mother that he was gay.
Living under the same roof in Fort Lupton, Gonzalo and Angie had a good brother-sister relationship. He ribbed her about spending too much time in the bathroom. "I'd be like, 'You can't perfect something that's not there,'" he says. "And she'd be like, 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.'" She'd threaten to tell on Gonzalo when he brought friends home. But as the oldest boy in a single-parent household, Gonzalo also assumed a father-figure role, keeping a watchful eye on his little sister's wardrobe: "I'd tell her, 'That's a little too short for you to wear. That's too hoochie for you to wear. Take it off.'"
When Angie turned eighteen, she started going to Tracks, a nightclub that Gonzalo also frequented while he was a college student in Denver. He remembers the first time he saw her there. At first, he didn't recognize her. Standing by the bar, he told his friends he thought he knew her from somewhere and walked over to get a closer look. That's when he realized it was his sister. He was floored by the way she danced. "She'd dance like she was a professional choreographer. She had her own signature moves," he says. "To be honest with you, she just wanted the attention. She got it."
When Angie moved to Greeley last March, Gonzalo saw less and less of her. The last time he saw her was at Denver PrideFest in late June. But he talked to her a few days before her murder, when she called to ask for gas money. "I said no. 'The word of the day is job. J-O-B. Get one,'" Gonzalo told her. "I'm the type of brother who'd talk smack and then I'd give in. I tried to call her back, but she was mad and didn't pick up."
Gonzalo says he wishes there was something he could have done to prevent what happened next. He feels like he should have been able to protect his little sister.
"She was a very beautiful girl," Gonzalo says. "She wanted to be happy and to have people live the way they wanted to live. Her thing was, if I'm not going to mess with you, don't mess with me. She'd say, 'I'm not here to judge you. Don't judge me.'"
Kitty DeLeon, mentor
Kitty DeLeon wanted Angie to have everything she didn't. "When I was growing up, it was difficult," DeLeon, who is in her thirties, says of her childhood in Fort Lupton. "I wasn't like Angie. Angie fought, and I was not a fighter."
DeLeon met Angie about four years ago. It was Christmastime, and their nieces were in the same school play. DeLeon had grown up with Angie's oldest sister, Monica, and when their mother saw DeLeon at the play, she waved her over and invited her to sit with them.
"I remember sitting there watching the play, and I looked over, and Angie was like this," she says, turning her head to the side, her eyes wide. "At first, I was like, 'Whoa, what is she staring at me for?' And then I realized she was like me, but a fifteen-year-old version. The first thing I did was, I told Monica, 'Your sister is very beautiful.'"