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Love of outdoors, racing fueled Sean Collier

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  July 18, 2013 12:20 PM

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Cover.jpgThis is not the August Rolling Stone cover. But you probably figured that out by now. (HT/Jason Fragoso)

Sean Collier was never cool enough to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.

He wasn't a rock star, he wasn't a cultural icon or even a president.

Hell, he wasn't even an accused terrorist.

Collier was an average kid who loved auto racing, the outdoors and the New England Patriots. We've covered some of Sean's story after speaking with his brother, Andrew, a couple of weeks ago. Sean gave his life in service as an MIT police officer after being ambushed and murdered late on April 18, allegedly by the August Rolling Stone cover-boy and his older and very dead brother.

Sean and Andrew's parents were divorced 25 years ago when the boys and their two surviving sisters were very young. They had a sister named Kristal, who died when she was three days old in 1985. She now lies next to her brother, Sean, in Peabody. Krystle Campbell of Arlington, Medford and Somerville, was killed in the Marathon bombing. She was 29. Kristal Collier would have been 28.

Allen Collier is 56 and he's already buried two of his five children. That's more than enough pain for anyone to bear. He doesn't need Rolling Stone to remind him of that.

"Myself and my family do not deserve this," Allen Collier told the OBF blog on Wednesday night. "I hope nobody in America buys a single issue of Rolling Stone. When I heard about this, it made me sick. I'm afraid to turn on the news or listen to the radio because I don't want to hear about this."

andrewandsean.jpgSean (at right) and Andrew spent nearly every weekend with Allen when they were kids, hanging out with him, camping in the woods of New Hampshire and eventually developing their love for auto racing.

Allen Collier has been out of the spotlight since his son's death allegedly at the hands of the two brothers who allegedly blew up the Boston Marathon. He's spoken only twice on the record with members of the media. The youngest of the two accused bombers dis-graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine's August issue. The cover and story, featuring Accused Terrorist The Younger's background and upbringing, hit the internet Tuesday.

The reaction in Boston, New England, in most of civilized society and across social media was nearly universal in its outrage. Even the editors at Rolling Stone posted a sort-of-we-screwed-this-one-up-please-don't-hate-us note atop the story online, without really saying they were sorry for anything.

Andrew, who said he was speaking for himself, his mom, Kelley Rogers, stepfather, Joe Rogers, and his siblings, didn't have any comment on the Rolling Stone cover Wednesday. He said they will issue a statement if, or when, they decide to comment.

That's understandable.

We'll happily be furious on your behalf, Andrew.

Rolling Stone's August cover story is a piece most of us could have written, there are no groundbreaking revelations in the piece for anyone who's been following this story, just by knowing the mentality of those who call themselves friends and supporters of this 19-year-old alleged killer. These same folks kept silent in the crucial hours after photos and videos of the suspect brothers were blasted by the FBI across every TV screen, website and smartphone in the universe at about 5 p.m. April 18.

The big scoop here is what's not in this story. Not a single soul who recognized the two suspects on TV or elsewhere told Rolling Stone that they lifted a phone, fired an email or posted a tweet to alert authorities about their name or location at that time.

Had they done so, perhaps Sean Collier would still be alive and Richard Donohue would have avoided two months in rehab after nearly dying from multiple bullet wounds.

Rolling Stone didn't point that out. We did.

Here's our favorite line of the Rolling Stone piece: "... no one wanted Jahar to get in trouble."

Sean Collier and Richard Donohue, not so much.

When it comes to sob stories like this, you already know the drill.

The cover-boy was a really good kid who just happened to be caught up in a troubled, dysfunctional family. Child of divorce. You might even say he had "rock star good looks." (See the multiple Jim Morrison comparisons). But then he got caught up in the world of Muslim extremists and things just got out of hand. He was really a dynamic kid. He's way too deep and complex a person for most us to understand. He's simply misunderstood. And he is a victim, much like those who died, were injured or otherwise traumatized on Patriots' Day. He probably didn't realize what he was doing.

Blah, blah, blah.

What's next? "Adam Lanza - The Sesame Street Years." 

Maybe: "Whitey Bulger - Altar Boy Gone Bad." 

The newsiest element to the Rolling Stone piece was the cover itself. CVS and other retail outlets won't stock the magazine. Good for them. Better for business.

More than 121,000 160,000 Facebook users liked a "Boycott Rolling Stone magazine for their latest cover" community page started by a former fan of the magazine in Charlotte, N.C. I'm not a big fan of boycotts in general. They usually don't work, although this one might be an exception. Put the magazine on newsstands, just rip off the cover so we don't have to look at that pretty, boyish, it-makes-you-want-to-puke face. No one needs to be "challenged" by "facing" this accused terrorist's "normalcy." Radio 92.9 in Boston is offering to buy back copies of the issue from Rolling Stone subscribers only in exchange for concert tickets.

One of the most liberal and intellectually sophisticated cities in the U.S., Cambridge is also one of the most ethnically and economically diverse. - Rolling Stone

Cambridge is where Sean Collier worked as a cop, hung out at the MIT sailing clubhouse, joined the MIT Outing Club and eventually died. Collier has a dinghy named in his honor at MIT. Cambridge is light years from Sugar Hill Speedway in Weare, N.H., where Collier became a smaller-scale-Jimmie Johnson of sorts 11 years ago.

Some would want us to believe that kids like young Sean Coller, who were into racing cars, camping and the Patriots, just don't have the worldly smarts and did not face challenges that Rolling Stone's cover-boy endured. They're not very exotic. Boys who were into go-kart racing, camping with their dad and fighting with their brother probably would not have fit the profile for a Cambridge city scholarship, as well.

Rolling Stone did Boston and all of those who felt any pain after the Marathon attacks a favor, of sorts. Since the bombings and ensuing lock-down, "Boston Strong" has been the rallying cry. People from Copenhagen to California have flooded anyone associated with Boston with support and good wishes. (The Muni buses in San Francisco still post "We Stand With Boston" on their rotating digital route signs.)

Thousands sent their debit card numbers to the One Fund, millions posted messages of support on Facebook, cheered wildly when Jeff Bauman walked at TD Garden and roared when David Ortiz christened Boston as "Our f--king city."

But we haven't had a chance to really vent. Rolling Stone opened Boston's Central Artery with its cover photo. The story, not so much. But THAT photo of HIM, on the cover of the Rolling Stone no less, shoved in our faces, was just too much for anyone who can say "Boston Strong" with a straight face to take.

That was true for Allen Collier. He had reached out to boston.com last week and spoke to us Friday at length about Sean's New Hampshire upbringing and short but successful auto-racing career. He shared a similar story with ESPN's Marty Smith.

While Rolling Stone chose to inform you of its cover-boy's tragic tale, we thought it would be the perfect time to share some more of what made Sean special.

I'm a big fan of journalism and good story telling, so I'll try to do both here.

"Sean was so humble," Allen said. "He never wanted to take credit for anything. Whenever he won, I'd tell him I was proud of him and he'd say 'What are making such a big deal about?' He did so many great things."

Allen caught the NASCAR bug by watching Jeff Gordon beat the likes of Dale Earnhardt. Sean and Andrew, who now works as a mechanic for Hendrick Motorsports, raced slot cars in Manchester on the 51 weekends a year they were with their father. One boy worked at Queen City Racing on Saturdays, the other on Sunday.

In 2001, with Sean still too young to legally drive on the streets of the Granite State, he took the money he earned and pooled it with cash from his dad and ran his first go-kart race at Sugar Hill Speedway. Nothing was new, including the chassis which was from a wreck. The motors were "box stock," so driving skills made the difference once they pieced together the car and got it to the track.

Sean's first go-kart race was called the Coca-Cola 600. He challenged the leader throughout and bumped the leader before eventually finishing fourth.

"He was racing 70 or 80 miles per hour around this track and he couldn't even drive a car. It was mind-blowing," Allen said. "After the race, they were screaming at us. The owner of the track called me a liar for saying Sean had never raced before."

seancollier.jpgSean Collier celebrates a victory in 2002 at Sugar Hill Speedway. (Courtesy Allen Collier)


Andrew was never very comfortable driving, so he was happy to help his older but smaller brother, and work on his ride.

"Sean was a great racer. I remember lending him all kinds of money so he could buy that kart," Andrew said Wednesday. "I still don't know if he ever paid me back everything. He used to say 'Put it on my tab' to me all the time. Great times. I was always defending him at the track. He was my 'big bro' but I was bigger than him. I was fearless when it came to protecting him. Guys over twice his age would get so mad at him for winning all the time. He was beating them clean. He wasn't the type to take you out on purpose. If you put me on fixing it and him in the driver's seat, there was no stopping him."

With limited experience and even less money, the Colliers went at it full-time in 2002. Sean won 25 races, including his first, and the championships in two series - box stock medium and box stock heavy. The money eventually ran out after the 2003 season.

Andrew's mechanical skills landed him at Hendrick Motorsports, home of Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sean gave up the wheel for a career in law enforcement. Sean eventually joined the MIT Outing Club. A passion for the outdoors that took root on a rain-soaked camping trip with his dad and brother when he was about 10 blossomed during his days at MIT. "The MIT police have been wonderful," Allen said. "There's no doubt how much they loved my son."

The past week has been an emotional Space Shuttle ride for the Colliers. A week ago Wednesday, Sean's alleged killer was arraigned, complete with smirk, while supporters rallied on his behalf outside the courthouse. Over the weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series made a stop in New Hampshire. And now, Rolling Stone.

Instead of dealing with his brother's death and how to stomach the latest glorification of his alleged killer, Andrew should be planing how to outfit Sean's car for the Halloween Howler at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. on Oct. 28.

"He wanted to drive in that race and for me to work on his car," Andrew said. "I was always a better mechanic than I was a racer, so I said 'sure.' I would have loved to have done that. It was going to be so much fun to get back to racing with him again. Who knows? Maybe yell at some people again."

allencollierphoto.jpgWhen Rolling Stone's latest cover-boy was arraigned last Wednesday, Allen wanted no part of the courtroom scene. Instead, he climbed Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington, N.H., to place Sean's day pack, water bottle, hiking poles, a flag from his grave and an MIT patch on the mountain (photo at right) where he and his boys shared so much happiness.

"That was important to me. The conditions were harsh. It was raining and windy. I felt it was much better for me to be there rather in Boston. I know Sean was looking down on me and saying 'thanks for not going to that courthouse.' What father wouldn't be upset if they had seen those protesters?" Allen said. "Honestly, I'm dealing with severe depression. One of the things the doctors told me to do was to start walking. I eventually got back into hiking. It's good therapy for me."

Andrew, who is based in Charlotte, N.C., said he plans to follow in his father's footsteps up the mountain someday in Sean's honor.

"Sean never really got big into the outdoors until he was at MIT and joined the Outing Club," Andrew said. "I was more into the four wheeling up a mountain than climbing it. I hope to take his truck up a mountain and hike the rest one day. It will be my journey with Sean, and I will be a few hundred feet closer to where he is now when I get to the top."

Sean is dearly missed. Every day.

Even though he wasn't trendy, edgy or hip enough to merit the cover of Rolling Stone after dying a hero.

"All I ever wanted to do was protect my family but you can't be there all the time. I miss him fiercely," Andrew said. "We fought a lot like brothers do, and I hope he knew in the time of his death how much I loved him, that I was always there for him, and I would have been happy to - would rather - have taken that bullet."

Mayor Menino has taken a beating here for his famous flubs. But his statement nailed it on Wednesday.

"The survivors of the Boston Marathon attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel Rolling Stone deserves them."


Don't forget to visit our Obnoxious Boston Fan blog. As always, let us know what you think. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail me at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com.

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