Since the day after the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, David "Cobra" Clemente has been a constant presence, standing guard when students arrive at 6:30 a.m. and when they leave around 2:40 p.m. In the beginning, he was surrounded by other red-beret-topped Guardian Angels who patrolled the school as volunteers — and won the affection of many worried parents and shaken students.
Now he's the only one left. And after next Friday, he too will be gone. Clemente has been asked by Principal Ty Thompson to leave the school, a move that outraged parents who quickly started a petition to rally around the last remaining Guardian Angel and demand he be allowed to stay.
"The Guardian Angels love you guys and girls," Clemente, a 60-year-old Tamarac resident, wrote in a Facebook post this past Tuesday. "And I truly thank you for letting me be all of your personal bodyguard and protector."
It's not clear what led to Clemente's sudden departure, which was first reported by WFOR. In the months after 17 students and teachers were killed at the Parkland school, the Angels attracted widespread support, with one parent launching a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $5,000. Chelsea Clinton was one of the donors.
Thompson presented the men with an award in May, saying they "were there for all the right reasons, and we really, really appreciate it,” according to Coral Springs Talk.
Clemente tells New Times he took a leave from his job as a security specialist to watch over Stoneman Douglas, turning to his rainy day fund to make ends meet.
"When this thing happened in Parkland on the 14th, it wasn't a rainy day," he says. "It was a storm."
But the Guardian Angels' numbers dropped last month, the Sun Sentinel reported, amid a debate over their role on campus, an unspecified criminal investigation into one Angel named Fredrick Romero Davis, and a 2009 allegation that he behaved improperly with a child. Law enforcement has not revealed details of the current investigation, which is ongoing. Prosecutors declined to file charges over the past allegation, in which Davis was accused of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old.
Though Davis was barred from all Broward campuses, Clemente was allowed to continue at his post outside Stoneman Douglas. Over the past eight months, he says, the school community has come to feel like family to him. Parents hug Clemente and students bake him brownies.
Angela Weber, whose son is a junior at the school, says she's been relieved to see him there: "The kids feel like they can really trust him," she says. "And they can."
Clemente had originally planned on being at Stoneman Douglas only until the end of the 2017-18 school year. But at the request of the community, he says, he had decided to remain on campus for this year as well, believing that Parkland still needs the Guardian Angels.
"I had given my word to the community that as long as they needed me, I would be there," he says. "I had given my word that I would put up my life, give my life for these students. And I'm a man of my word."
Now, he says, he will relocate to a different position across the street out of respect for the principal's decision. He'll also be on guard less frequently.
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District officials would not say why Clemente was asked to leave. In an email, spokeswoman Tracy Clark confirmed he was asked to remove his "encampment" outside the school gates.
Clemente claims he's being pushed out because of an earlier Facebook post in which he pointed out a drug problem at Stoneman Douglas. Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the mass shooting, told WFOR it was evidence of a double standard. “The principal is telling the children: 'If you hear something or see something, say something,'" he told the TV station. "And that’s exactly what Cobra did, and he’s getting fired for it.”
Weber started a petition to encourage Thompson to allow Clemente to remain at the school. By this afternoon, it had collected more than 500 signatures.
If the principal doesn't change his mind, Weber says, "I think we've lost a hero in our community."