Wingin' It

Fledgling Guardian Angels get the call from gang-riddled Lake Worth

Through the years, as some cities have welcomed them and others have regarded them as attention-craving vigilantes, Sliwa and the Angels have remained newsworthy. They made headlines in 1982 when a 27-year-old Angel was shot and killed in Newark, New Jersey, by a police officer who said he mistook the Angel for a criminal. In 1983, a 16-year-old who had been an Angel for four days was shot by a gang member in the Bronx, and he died six months later. Sliwa claims that four more Angels have died on duty.

As the Angels expanded to 86 cities internationally and added youth and cyber programs, they received endorsements and awards from Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and George W. Bush.

Six Guardian Angels chapters currently exist in Florida — Broward/Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, and Fort Myers. Sliwa says he hopes the Lake Worth Angels will become a blueprint for future units in surrounding cities, like Boynton Beach and Riviera Beach, where gang crime is also on the rise. Other chapters have been reactivated in New Orleans and Boston.

In April, somebody noticed that a Boston-based Angel, Erich "Pit Bull" Kennedy, was a registered sex offender. Five years ago, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 whom he knew through a youth group. Sliwa promptly dismissed Kennedy.

If the citizens of Lake Worth are aware of the Angels' checkered past, they don't care. They want protection.

It sounds like fireworks, but everybody on South D Street knows this is no celebration. This is a massacre.

It's late March, and the sun has sunk below Lake Worth's boxy, pastel-colored homes and giant coconut palms. The signs of spring have started creeping up on this historic suburb of West Palm Beach, which refers to itself as "where the tropics begin." New buds of African tulip trees tremble in a breeze that, depending on the block, carries the aromas of Haitian, Mexican, or Guatemalan specialties. Neighborhood cats venture through extensive backyard alleyways lined by graffiti-stained fences.

When the shooting begins, two sisters in their Wednesday best are departing for church. One, who has already ventured out to the sandy driveway, hits the ground and covers her face. The other, still inside and worried for her sister's safety, runs to the front door. Down the block, a mother forces her 13-year-old son to lie on the floor in his bedroom. Holding their collective breath, the inhabitants of South D Street listen as what sounds like 20 rounds are unloaded from assault rifles. Even after the shots subside and a quiet settles over the block, the couple that lives across the street refuses to look out the window.

Soon, the block is flooded with police, media, friends of the victims, and curious strangers. The yellow tape goes up. A few men are screaming, and one punches inanimate objects. During the backyard bloodbath and the chaos that follows, nobody at 1409 S. D St. thinks to turn off the television.

In the backyard, police find three men injured and three dead. These are the unluckier of about a dozen Haitian men who had been passing an evening with card games and dominoes when a black Dodge with tinted windows parked out front. Three men in black masks got out and shot the place up. Behind them, they left a trail of bodies, blood, and scattered dominoes.

One of the alleged masked gunmen, Patrick Thompkins, got hit in the fracas. Thompkins claims he was the victim, but he's been charged in all of the shootings. Police also linked all who were shot but Thompkins to the Haitian street gang Top 6, and they believe this was a retaliation killing. It's hard for investigators to nail down. The witnesses and the injured men all seem to have forgotten any information that might help police.

That's where the Guardian Angels come in. One of their jobs is to collect information about local gangs.

Outside the new headquarters, three homes behind white picket fences on South N Street, the Angels are preparing in the driveway for one of the first patrols. Like a wire-service reporter doing duty in Fallujah, a New Times writer has embedded herself with this crew.

The leader is Dar Siew, 33, an original Guardian Angel. His street name is "Bad Karma"; in real life, he's an auto mechanic and has a problem with authority. That pretty much explains why he's the leader. Although he has a relatively small frame, Siew says he is practiced in a number of martial arts, including Kenpo karate, tae kwon do, and judo. He grew up in Lake Worth, and many residents go way back with the Siew family.

A quick scan of court records reveals that Siew hasn't always been a perfect angel. In 1997, in the wee hours after Super Bowl Sunday, Siew had picked up a couple of girls at a bar called Flirts, then got pulled over because his brake lights and taillights were out. The cop soon found out that Siew's license had been suspended three times for failing to pay a traffic fine. When the cop asked him if he had weapons or illegal substances in the car, Siew admitted he had gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, commonly known as GHB. When the cop asked what was in Siew's black fanny pack, he said he had three and a half Rohypnols, or "roofies." Both GHB and Rohypnol are known as date-rape drugs. GHB became a Schedule 1 drug only in 2000, but Rohypnol was, and remains, illegal. The cop took Siew to jail.

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