Inside a dilapidated boarding house in Manchester, New Hampshire, Michael Guglielmo sat with one hand on a beer, and the other on a MAC-10 machine gun. He'd released his hostages hours ago; the wall behind him was sprayed with bullet holes. Outside, Manchester's Police Special Reaction Team had the perimeter secured with snipers. Tactical commander Dale Robinson had given his men the green light to shoot if Guglielmo crossed an invisible line in the front yard; from an abandoned house next door, Robinson shouted to Guglielmo to give himself up.
It was winter 1985. Guglielmo was 23, a cocaine-powered career criminal who
had always dreamed of dying in a standoff with police.
"I had the gun to my head, and was going to kill myself, but I didn't have the balls to do it," he says. "Eventually — when I ran out of coke and bullets — I came out, threw the clips down, and surrendered. I still had the MAC-10 strapped over my shoulder and was drinking a Budweiser when they told me to stop and get down on my knees. Then they came at me — bulletproof shields, shotguns— smacked the beer out of my hand, and beat me down."
Robinson, his team, and all of Manchester breathed a collective sigh
At the time, Guglielmo had no clue how close he'd come to being executed. And what neither Guglielmo nor Robinson could possibly know was that, decades later, they'd be working together — saving lives under the least likely of circumstances.
It's a wonder that none of the 200 bullets Guglielmo unloaded that night hit or killed anyone. What would come 20 years later, though, is more like a miracle.
Today, Guglielmo lives in a cozy ranch that he built himself, in Belmont, New Hampshire, just a half-hour from the site of his 1985 standoff. Out front, there's one of those giant yellow roadside signs that you'd see outside of a country diner: it says, save a life.
Guglielmo is working at his computer inside, a smile spreading under his handlebar mustache. At 49, a mural of tattoos covers his body. When he talks, he quotes Hobbes, then swears like a biker in the same breath.Guglielmo is one of the top individual recruiters of bone-marrow donors in the country. This is his mission and his passion— he calls it his "true calling." Working with the international nonprofit DKMS, Guglielmo has organized more than 600 events that enrolled nearly 50,000 could-be donors, and in the process has secured 135 matches — giving 135 people with leukemia, auto-immune disorders, and other diseases a chance at survival, rather than an assured death sentence.
He travels New England, swabbing mouths for DNA and registering people as potential donors, whipping his gunmetal-gray Cadillac convertible with 20-inch chrome rims around the snow-dusted back roads near his New Hampshire home. If he cut you off on the highway, you'd see Guglielmo's savelife vanity plate slide into the lane ahead of you and tear away in a cloud of exhaust.
Ask Guglielmo where it all went wrong, and he'll talk about taking his first drink at age 10, in his father's beer-and-shot joint. Michael started working for his dad while in grade school — stocking the bar, sweeping floors, and eventually sneaking booze out the back door.