Life stories worth revisiting 


When I submit a column for publication, my story is done. Not so for the people I write about. I think often of previous subjects, and before we continue the SemiNative journey, I wanted to catch you up on two previous column subjects.

In November 2013, I wrote about the poignant series of images that local photographer Nichole Montanez calls "Face of Cannabis." Back then, the series consisted of about 30 kids who were combating serious epileptic ailments with the use of cannabis oil. Now, the project includes more than 300 faces from 13 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. Then, it didn't include her inspiration for the project, her own niece who she calls Teapot. Teapot, who has Dravet Syndrome, was having marginal success with other medication. But that medication suppressed her immune system, causing her to be ill frequently. When Teapot was put on the waiting list for the oil, she joined the other faces in February 2014.

Montanez would like the project to be done. And by done, she means universal access to cannabis oil for the kids who need it to control their conditions. "I don't get to decide when I'm done," she told me recently. "The kids will tell me when I'm done."

When we first spoke, Montanez envisioned an exhibit — a curtain of metal portraits that could travel to galleries showing not sick children, but happy kids. In November 2015, the curtain became a reality, displayed in a Dallas gallery. The opening also served as a photo shoot for more faces.

Following the project on Facebook, it's not uncommon to see the occasional face of an adult who also uses medicinal cannabis. But what was surprising was the face of former NFL and Denver quarterback Jake Plummer popping up in June. Plummer and other NFL players are advocating for medical cannabis.

At first, Montanez was resentful that these athletes might steal the spotlight. "I was pissed because I only care about the children," she said.

Meeting the jocks, and photographing them — alone and with some of the children — has softened her. Now, she hopes the kids' faces coupled with the NFL muscle can continue bringing attention to the need for access.

My conversation with Pam Lively in May 2014 is one that I will never forget. Lively's 20-year-old daughter, Angelina Sicola, had been killed one year before that conversation. Then, and now, the murder was unsolved.

Angie, as her mom calls her, was strangled in her apartment near Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway. Speaking with Lively on the phone, my tears flowed with hers. Angie was a student in my class at the time of her death. But these tears came from listening to the devastating heartbreak of a mother who had no answers.

"Police don't tell us anything, they keep any details secret. It makes it frustrating," Lively told me recently. "I go through periods where I lose hope."

But Lively believes even three years after the murder, the police have someone in mind. She speculates that Angie knew her killer because there was no forced entry. (When I spoke with police two years ago, they wouldn't say whether there was forced entry. Lively says she knows that from Angie's dad, who found her.)

She also believes they know who killed Angie, but they don't have enough to convince 12 jurors. Lively thinks this case ultimately will be solved through DNA evidence.

In 2014, Lively spoke of survival strategies; time hasn't changed that. "I have to find a reason to get out of bed every day," she says. Some days it's her other children. Some days it's her job — she retired from full-time teaching at Air Academy High School, but the block schedule has allowed her to continue to teach one U.S. government and politics class. Some days it's her close group of supportive friends. She also belongs to three grief groups, including one in Denver for parents of murdered children.

Angie's stepsister raised about $10,000 through gofundme to offer as a reward for the killer's capture. Angie's grandmother gave money to create a scholarship fund at Palmer Ridge High School (which Angie attended). And last May, Lively accepted Angie's honorary BA from UCCS.

But what Lively really wants is some type of closure. "We want an arrest to maybe have some type of peace," she says. "The peace of knowing this killer is not walking around on the streets."


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