PARKLAND, FL - When 59-year-old Guardian Angel and Tamarac resident David “Cobra” Clemente received word that there was an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he “called his guys” and headed over to the school as soon as possible, he explains. One of the twelve “guys” is Romero “Black Cat” Davis, his “2nd in Command.” Black Cat owns a mixed martial arts training gym in Coral Springs. They arrived at Douglas with other Angels in tow, but the roads were blocked.
They returned on February 15 at 6:30 a.m. and their lives, as well as those of Douglas students and their families, have never been the same.
Serving communities for thirty-nine years through gang riots, shootings, stabbings and other unfortunate tragedies, Cobra reflects on the beginning of his time as a Guardian Angel as a “do or die” situation. In late 1979, living in what he describes as the “belly of the beast” in New York City, Cobra began volunteering as a Guardian Angel because in his neighborhood, it was the alternative to a troubled existence.
Many of Cobra’s friends and neighbors at the time joined gangs. “Did I want to live and help my community, or did I want to be homeless, on drugs, or dead?” he questions.
Following September 11, 2001, Cobra and other Angels conducted search and rescue on site for about a month or two. He explains that many of his guys who volunteered with him at that time now have cancer or have died after volunteering in downtown New York.
Five years ago, Cobra moved to South Florida and started a Broward County Guardian Angels chapter.
Black Cat began volunteering in the late 1990’s with the Angels. His past experience as a bounty hunter and private investigator, as well as rigorous training in martial arts, helped to prepare him for this role. He notes that all Guardian Angels receive training in CPR, martial arts, and search and rescue protocols.
Cobra and Black Cat are joined at the Command Center by Mark “Yankee” Muniz, who travels from Lake Worth to Parkland every Monday to Friday. He wakes up at 3 a.m. and takes a train and two buses (or rides a bike from the first bus stop) to arrive in Parkland by 6:30 each morning. Cobra has procured rent-free housing for Yankee for the next few months, as Yankee left his ballpark stadium concessions job to be present at Douglas.
Yankee says that the Angels have braved heavy rain, thunder and lightning conditions, standing under no more than a donated red tent in recent weeks. Today Yankee stands outside of the tent in a downpour along Pine Island Road, under a small umbrella gifted to him by a Douglas student.
When asked where they have been volunteering before this February, Cobra states that the Angels would circulate around Lake Worth, Hollywood and Miami. “There was no need for us in Parkland because it seemed secure.”
Black Cat adds that some residents living in what is commonly referred to as the “bubble” of Parkland, may have thought “not my city, not my town, not my child.”
On February 14, Cobra, Black Cat and their colleagues wanted to make sure that Parklanders and the bordering South Florida towns felt their presence as a deterrent.
“Seventeen kids were killed, but in reality, it felt like thousands. These were everybody’s kids,” says Cobra.
The Guardian Angels began as a non-profit agency in New York City in 1979 and have been responsible for creating hundreds of safety patrol chapters in the nation and worldwide. The “Magnificent 13,” including Founder Curtis Sliwa and twelve other volunteers, traveled on the subways to conduct safety patrols and encourage civic mindedness.
Cobra states that there are 137 Angels chapters in the United States and in 14 countries around the world, including Africa, Italy, Japan and the Philippines. Over 6,000 chapters connect through social media on Facebook to check in with their fellow “brothers” and “sisters,” share photos and support one another.
The Angels hope to meet Sliwa in New York city this summer, for a three-day trip that Cobra states is “not for sightseeing,” but to show respect, honor the organization and share their experience with fellow Angels. Cobra says they will “hit the streets, the subways, and Central Park.”
Commenting on his camaraderie with fellow Angels, Cobra explains, “we run into a lot of hardships, as a brotherhood, sisterhood, but this is what brings us here, and keeps us here.”
Black Cat has offered a free year of mixed martial arts training to Douglas students and their families that were affected by the tragedy. “That’s what we do this for, the kids,” he proclaims.
The Angels explain that it took time for local enforcement agencies to recognize and appreciate their presence on campus, but the response from the Douglas students, parents, and the surrounding communities has been positive from the start.
Currently, on a daily basis, groups of students visit the Angels at their tent and talk about what’s on their minds. They offer high-fives and messages of gratitude. There are some Douglas students, Black Cat says, that may hear a faint sound while at school, and will immediately text the Angels for reassurance that everything is okay.
The Angels receive food, drinks and thankful messages daily. They receive hundreds of waves from cars driving by. Black Cat tells that recently he received a three-page letter of thanks from a Douglas parent.
The Miami Police Association, Broward County and the City of Parkland, all have recently awarded the Angels with medals and certificates for their sacrifice.
When asked about this week’s national recognition from the Washington Post and a tweet from Chelsea Clinton, Cobra "does not want to get into politics,” but a “good deed was respected,” and Clinton donated for the “good of our community.”
The Angels were recently asked to participate in a second motorcycle ride fundraiser to honor the memory of Douglas victim, Meadow Pollack. Next week, Parkland residents Jon Faber and Stephen Feuerman are organizing an event to honor the Angels. As previously advertised, Evening with the Guardian Angels will be held on May 31 from 4-8 p.m. at the Parkland Amphitheater, to fundraise for the Angels, as well as raise community awareness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When Cobra returns home from his day at Douglas, he fathers his two adopted sons, Moses, 12 and Samuel, 13. Prior to adopting them, he has personally cared for ten specialized foster care cases, to offer endangered children a better way of life.
“We are not superheroes, but the power we got is the power of love,” states Cobra. He continues with a smile, “we will also be setting up a day where the Guardian Angels will be offering the whole community hugs.”
To learn more about “An Evening with the Guardian Angels” event, or to donate to the Guardian Angels organization, visit https://www.gofundme.com/honor-the-parkland-guardian-angels.