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Miguel Giron didn't take the death threat seriously.

After all, he was a professional soccer player there in his native Guatemala, in addition to operating a small pharmacy and store. And Guatemalans love soccer players.

So Giron took it as bluff when members of one of the armed factions active during the civil war that savaged Guatemala for decades prior to 1996 muscled his father to support them, and upon his refusal threatened to kill his grown children.

"I never thought it would happen to me," said Giron, now 49 and the maintenance man at Friends House, a senior community in Rincon Valley.

He was 28 and at work at the counter of his pharmacy in a mountain village outside of Santa Cruz del Quich?in February of 1991 when seven men stepped in. One approached and asked him for aspirin.

Giron said he turned to take a bottle from the shelf but whipped back at the sensation that "something wasn't right." The man who'd requested the aspirin had pulled out a pistol, and Giron is certain he intended to shoot him squarely in the back.

Instead, because Giron had spun to face the strangers, the bullet the man fired struck him in his upper right arm. A second man then leveled a handgun at him and fired three times.

Giron swears he was thrown backward and collapsed from the impact of slugs. He shouted to his wife, Marlene (pronounced mar-LAY-nay), to run, and they both fled the pharmacy. Relatives heard the commotion, rushed over and chased the assailants away.

At the hospital, the bloodied Giron expected the staff would find he'd been shot four times, but there was only one bullet wound to his arm. Devoutly Christian, he believes it was the hand of God that caused the other shots to miss.

He also credits God with what followed.

Weeks after the shooting, a missionary eager to help Giron flee the country before the assailants could try again learned that a group of Californians was about to leave Guatemala after building a school.

Among the volunteers was Jeff Shaver of Santa Rosa, who's 61 now and retired three weeks ago from Santa Rosa Junior College after working in special education, online education, curriculum development and other areas of the school.

Hearing about Shaver's imminent departure from Guatemala in 1991 was propitious because Giron knew someone in Santa Rosa. More than a decade earlier, Ken Saltzberg, an educator and longtime resident of the Quaker-based Monan's Rill intentional community off St. Helena Road, had lived with Giron's family while performing a Peace Corps project in their village.

Giron phoned Saltzberg, who said he'd be pleased to host him in Santa Rosa. So Giron obtained a tourist visa and flew to California, in April of '91, with Shaver.

Shaver liked Giron, who back then spoke nary a word of English, the moment he met him for the flight to the U.S.

"He's so genuine," Shaver said. "When you looked at his face, you just saw this guy filled with joy, filled with love."

Saltzberg and the other residents of Monan's Rill gave Giron a place to live and helped him find work and English classes. He applied for and was granted political asylum, then permanent residency. He has another five years before he is eligible to become an American citizen.

His wife joined him in Santa Rosa in 1993. The first two of their four children were born at Monan's Rill.

Residents there had a hand in him being hired as maintenance manager at the Quaker-inspired Friends House retirement community. Giron assists the 80-some residents and, believing his life was spared so that he can serve others, he stays pretty busy before and after work, too.

He'd worked as a firefighter prior to opening his business in Guatemala, so it was natural for him to become a volunteer with the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District. When the fire company retired a fire engine in 2002 and put it up for sale, an idea came to Giron.

He sparked a local campaign to purchase the engine and donate it to the Guatemalan city he'd known so well, Santa Cruz del Quich? Today, he said, people there use it not only for fire protection but to transport drinking water.

"Every time there is a parade, they want that fire truck to be in front," he said.

Giron's rescue training and desire to help others kicked in two years ago when he and a visitor from Guatemala walked the Golden Gate Bridge. They saw a young man hop the railing, then stand precariously on pipes running along the outside of the deck.

Giron slowly approached the distraught man, assuring him. Sensing an opportunity, he reached quickly through the bars of the railing and grabbed his arm.

"It's OK," he told the man as he and officers helped him back over the railing. "We're just trying to help you."

More than 20 years after he left Guatemala and his spot on a professional soccer team, the game remains huge to Giron. His eldest child, Maria Carrillo High graduate Meilee, 18, just made the SRJC women's team.

"In our home, everything is soccer," said her proud dad. For years an acclaimed youth-soccer coach, Giron currently coaches with the culturally diverse Tahuichi club, committed to seeing that low income doesn't keep any kid from playing the game.

Giron said he gives thanks every day that he is alive and in America.

"I tell my kids, we have a mission here," he said. "We just don't know what it is."

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.