Founded in 2014, Brothers Before Others had the goal of sending a floral arrangement to the services for every line of duty death in the country, no matter where in the country they occurred. Not only have we met that goal, but since that time we’ve grown into so much more. We’ve been able to make connections with so many families and hear face to face stories of our fallen that could humble anyone.
From our President/Founder Michael Burke down, every member will tell you that, when meeting with these families, the hardest thing to do is find the right words to say. What CAN you say? In a twist of fate, the ones we’re there to console end up doing the consoling; they become the more eloquent. The story I’m about to tell you is no different.
Yesterday was ‘Patriots Day’ in Boston and the 123rd running of the Boston Marathon. It was also the 6th anniversary of the start of one of the darkest weeks in our nations history. The events that occurred on April 15, 2013 were similar to the events that occurred on September 11, 2001 in that there was an innocence lost that permanently changed the face of America.
Of the lives lost that day and the days that followed, included was MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. Sean was ambushed and assassinated as he sat in his patrol car.
Whenever we host events where line of duty death families are invited, we encourage them to speak. Our events are attended by people, both sworn and civilian, who are there with the shared goal of honoring the fallen. We let these families know that this is their time to tell us who their loved one was to them, and not what some press hack can put together by digging through public records.
Yesterday, I spoke with Sean’s mother, Kelley. We wanted to make sure she knew that the group was thinking about her son and her family. I asked her to tell me some things about Sean; things that SHE would want known. These are her words:
Sean wanted to be a police officer from a very young age. That passion only grew as he grew. In high school, he was a Sergeant for the Somerville Auxiliary; the youngest in their history.
Sean paid his own way through the Transit Police Academy. He stopped talking to me about the ‘punishments’ he and his fellow recruits would receive because I would get so upset. He always thought it was cool. He graduated first in his class. Because he had paid his own way and did it on his own, he graduated without a job. He was soon hired by MIT which was an amazing opportunity for him, often working side by side with Cambridge. Sean was practicing community policing and didn’t even know it. He would take students to concerts. He even once connected with the Asian Club, providing 20 tickets to see Jason Aldeen. He felt it was a great way to expose them to some American culture. For him, it was relationship building through trust and compassion. He also once helped a homeless man he saw sleeping on a steam grate. The man was soaked to the bone in 20 degree weather. Sean brought him into one of the MIT buildings to warm up and looked after him. On the night he was murdered, he had his hire letter for Somerville PD (MA) in his pocket. He was scheduled to start that June. While Somerville had always been his ultimate goal, he would vent to my daughter that he was struggling with the move. MIT had been so great to him and for him, he was unsure if leaving was the right answer.
There’s so much more I can say. Sean was the 5th of 6 children, which includes my stepchildren who are all my family. He was funny, smart and often forgetful.
I love him more than words can say and I miss him every minute of my life.
As you can plainly see, there is a difference between what a newspaper can tell you as opposed to what a family member can tell you. But it’s what came next that will stick with me forever.
Kelley has shared her final text message with her son and asked that it be included to show “how fast someone’s world can shatter”. The text itself drives home the reality that we really never know when the ‘last time’ will be. This text was sent the day Sean was murdered:
As a parent, there is nothing natural about burying your child. There is no good that comes from that pain and it is a pain that will never ease or go away. However, there is something very powerful and very beautiful in that text. Kelley is blessed to know that the last words her son heard from her included ‘I love you’. The last conversation she had with her son expressed her love for him and her concern for his over all well-being.
If she had known that this would be the last time she was going to speak to her son, could there have been anything better for him to hear? The answer is simple: No.
The families we have met over the years and the ones we will meet in the future are some of the strongest and most courageous people walking this planet. The weight they have been asked to stand up under would crush most 5 adults. So maybe the perfect words we, as a charity, are searching for are ‘Thank You”.
The families of our fallen, often times, don’t necessarily share the same passion that their lost loved one had. The families are voluntold to endure missed birthdays, missed holidays, mood swings, sleep deprivation, PTSD and on and on. Being the parent, sibling, spouse or child of a police officer is the most under-appreciated role associated with this profession. A police officer’s effectiveness is only as successful as their support structure allows them to be.
So, to Kelley and her entire family, on behalf of the members of Brothers Before Others and the law enforcement community, “Thank you” for sharing Sean with us. Thank you for showing the strength that you have. Thank you for the sacrifices that you all have made and continue to make today. Please know that you are never alone. Even when it may not seem like it, someone is always thinking about your son and your family. We will never forget.
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