Commentary

For Colliers, it was a bond of brothers

Updated: May 17, 2013, 3:41 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Andrew Collier and Sean CollierCourtesy Andrew Collier Andrew Collier, left, and his brother Sean shared a lot of good times together.

Andrew Collier is seated on a sun-drenched veranda, positioned on the back side of the monstrous race shop that houses the Nos. 48 and 88 Sprint Cup teams. He sits upright at a fancy galvanized-steel coffee table, thumbing through a series of text messages on his cell phone in search of one specific note, sent to him by his mother.

This isn't a new exercise. Though this day is the message's one-month anniversary, he does this often.

After a minute or two, Andrew locates it, then reads it aloud:

"You're going to hear about bombs at the finish line of the marathon. Sean is ok."

"After she sent me that I was like, 'What the hell are you talking about?'" Andrew recalls. "We get out of work at 4:30, and I think I spent the last 30 minutes of work on CNN. And then I went to school and was on CNN the whole time.

"I was worthless the rest of the day trying to read about it and find out everything I could. I remember just feeling sick about it. And that was before I even had real involvement in it."

His involvement would soon become life altering, and that text message from his mother is the starkest of reminders.

He knows he should stop reading it. But he can't.

"That's a text message I've gone back and looked at a lot," Andrew said. "I shouldn't. It's devastating. But that's the last time I heard Sean was OK."

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When the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, Sean Collier's family went into panic mode. Andrew explains that the Colliers are a worrisome bunch, tight-knit. So Andrew knew when the bombings happened that Sean, a policeman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, would be inundated with calls and texts from siblings and parents and aunts and uncles concerned for his well being.

Andrew figured it best to stand back and let Sean do his job. He would wait until the weekend to check in.

He never got that chance.

Three days later, on April 18 during the manhunt for the Boston bombing suspects, Sean Collier responded to a report of a disturbance. He was shot and killed in his vehicle, allegedly by the bombing suspects. He was 26 years old.

"Ultimately, I didn't get to speak to him," Andrew says now. "Now I wish I did just call him that day."

Andrew doesn't discuss the details of his brother's death. It's a private response that stays within the family. He doesn't discuss much of the aftermath, either, other than to say his sister informed him with a middle-of-the-night phone call that "was the worst moment of my life. I can say that without a doubt. I hope I never have to live through something like that again."

Sean was two years older than Andrew, and until very recently, Andrew said, found great joy in giving his little brother a hard time. That is an older brother's duty, after all.

Despite the constant ribbing, Andrew knew his brother loved him. They were very close. On family vacations they were always roommates. Family members constantly compared them to one another and mistakenly called them by the other's name.

"So many people say we look alike, sound alike, laugh alike," Andrew said. "It used to annoy me. Now it makes me proud. We did everything together. That's the hardest part about this for me, to know we won't anymore."

Until recently Andrew wasn't aware of his brother's genuine selflessness and humility. Sean would tell Andrew he was heading to work, when "work" actually meant volunteering at a group home for kids or a homeless shelter, Andrew said. Sean joined an MIT hiking club for no other reason than to get to know the people he was serving and protecting on a more personal level.

[+] EnlargeAndrew and Robert Collier
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaAndrew Collier, left, and his brother, Robert, come together after the eulogy at a memorial service for their brother, slain Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus officer Sean Collier.

Andrew said the impact of his death on the MIT community was striking.

"They all really did love him," Andrew said. "They really did care about him. And that's because as a police officer he went around and became friends with them, not just an authority figure that was trying to force himself around."

The day after Sean was killed, Andrew said his Facebook page held more than 100 friend requests. As he filtered through them, his brother's impact was even more evident.

"A lot of people sent messages with it -- 'I go to MIT. I met your brother once. And he left such an impression on me. I'm so devastated for your loss,'" Andrew said. "And at the memorial services, you see students breaking down just like I did and my family did, when they found out what happened.

"I don't even know how to describe the pride you get from seeing how much people cared about him and appreciated the work that he did."

The work Sean did was an underappreciated type -- community service. To remember his brother, Andrew recently created a website -- 2MakeAChange.org – to petition for the creation of an official federal holiday that formally recognizes first responders. This is only partly to recognize Sean, he said.

"I really feel like there needs to be a day for past, present and future first responders. I've said to a lot of people, every day we should be out there thanking them, and this is a way I'd hope to get it to happen," Andrew said.

He hopes to get the petition passed, certainly. But whether or not that happens he won't stop working to honor Sean.

"The rest of my life is going to be dedicated to making the world a better place in the name of Sean," Andrew said.

His brother was proud. Since Sean died, Andrew has learned just how proud. During memorial services and wakes, folks approached to offer condolences, and Andrew would say thank you and introduce himself. Invariably they'd respond with, "Hey, you're the NASCAR guy."

"It's clearly something he told everyone," Andrew said. "That makes you feel good. Really good. He's proud of my dream. That's something I sometimes laugh about with my siblings."

There are six Collier kids. One is a pediatric nurse practitioner, one a social worker who pursues legislation to help handicapped individuals. Another is a student in forensic science and another a civil engineer. Sean was a police officer. And Andrew, of course, is a gearhead.

"A nurse, cop and social worker -- they've basically given their lives to helping other people, but they all sit there and talk about me and NASCAR," Andrew laughed. "And I'm like, 'You guys are the ones doing something special. I just wash crankshafts.'

"But it does make you very proud that he's sitting there doing something only a few people can do, and commit themselves to, and here he is proud of me for turning wrenches."

Sean had racing in his blood, too, Andrew said. It started when they were kids, and their father heard about a guy named Jeff Gordon winning a bunch of NASCAR races. The family knew nothing about the sport, but started paying attention and quickly became fans. From there Andrew took a keen interest in the mechanical side, and ultimately went to automotive school with the goal of moving to Charlotte, N.C., and working for Hendrick Motorsports.

He moved south from New England in August 2006, and began volunteering at HMS in February 2008. Six months later he was on payroll full time. His two main jobs are machining bearings and prepping crankshafts for the engine shop. He hopes to eventually become a machinist or programmer.

While Andrew cheered for Hendrick as a kid, Sean was a Ward Burton fan.

"He liked the way he talked," Andrew laughed.

Andrew tells the hilarious tale of once meeting Burton, whose son, Jeb, raced with another team Andrew helps. Burton was atop the transporter spotting for his son, and Andrew climbed up and sent a text to Sean with the news.

[+] EnlargeSean Collier
AP Photo/Middlesex District Attorney's OfficeSlain MIT police officer Sean Collier loved his job ... and NASCAR driver Ward Burton.

"I said, 'Hey, I'm standing up here on this truck with Ward Burton,'" Andrew said. "And he's like, 'Did you tell him I love him?' And I was like, 'No. That's creepy.'"

His smile in this moment screams with fondness of the memory.

The last time Andrew visited Sean's apartment there was still a No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge on the shelf.

In their mid-teens the brothers made for a formidable go-kart tandem -- Andrew turning wrenches and Sean turning the steering wheel.

"We had a blast with that," Andrew said. "I could work on them, but when it came to driving them I wasn't very good. He was the exact opposite. He could drive the wheels off it but he used ratchets as hammers and stuff -- he had no idea what he was doing when it came to turning wrenches.

"We had adults getting in fights with him because he was winning all the time. We did it for a few years and ultimately had to give it up."

They had hoped to revive the racing union this fall, in an event called the Halloween Howler at the local short track back home in Hudson, N.H. In the event, Andrew explained, the entire track is filled with cars, four-wide, bumper-to-bumper all the way around. There is no yellow flag, just green, white, red and checkered. You go until you can't go anymore.

"He really wanted to do that," Andrew said. "He asked me a few different times, 'Will you help me build a car?' We were planning on doing that in October. Even though he didn't watch NASCAR every week anymore, he still loved racing."

Sean loved nothing more than police work.

"He'd always say he wanted to stop problems before they happen," Andrew said. "He didn't tell us the things he was doing. He didn't think it was important to tell us.

"That, right now, is the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind: how humble he was and how great of a person he really was. He wasn't someone who did it for recognition. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

"He was a great guy and I loved hanging out with him. I'll miss him a lot."

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