No one called him just Andy. At the Brooklyn Park Police Department, colleagues knew officer Andrew Suerth as “Big Andy” or “Big Bear,” a nod to his towering size and larger-than-life presence.
But the hole he left behind after his unexpected death last week dwarfed even his broad 6-foot-3 frame.
While on a family vacation in Colorado, Suerth, 38, died from cardiac arrest on Dec. 4. For Brooklyn Park police, it was the first loss of an active duty officer in recent memory.
“It took everybody off their feet, being so sudden like that,” said Police Chief Craig Enevoldsen. “It’s been tough.”
In the days after Suerth’s death, three close friends in the police department embarked on a cross-country quest to bring his cremated remains home for Friday’s memorial service.
The trio flew to Denver, rented a sport-utility vehicle and headed back on a 14-hour drive to Minnesota, documenting their journey on a Twitter account called Bringing #166 Home, a reference to Suerth’s badge number.
Their tweets started as a way to share updates with Suerth’s friends and family, including his two young daughters and wife, Sara, also a Brooklyn Park police officer.
But soon dozens started following along to watch their journey unfold, and the deeply personal posts turned into something more for officers Charles Cudd, Todd Ewing and Chad Miller.
“It became a way for us to express our love and our grief,” Cudd said. “It was a complete privilege to be able to do it.”
They arrived home Thursday, stopping at the police department for one final salute. With them were Suerth’s remains in a special box embellished with a plaque marked “Big Bear.” Co-workers lined up to pay their respects to Suerth, who worked with them for 14 years and was named Brooklyn Park’s officer of the year in 2014.
“He was dependable as a cop, as a partner,” Miller said. “You knew when Big Andy was coming, you were going to be all right.”
On Friday, relatives, friends and colleagues gathered at a hotel in Brooklyn Park to remember Suerth, a high school valedictorian and vocal hockey fan with an unbridled sense of humor.
“Since Dec. 4, it’s not been easy to get sleep,” Miller said Friday. “I actually slept last night knowing that he was back.”
‘A brother to us’
After Suerth’s death, the thought of strangers bringing him home didn’t sit well with his three friends.
“Andy’s a brother to us,” Miller said. “He should be coming with us.” So they made the decision to fly west.
They landed Tuesday and toasted “Big Andy” by ordering a Coors Light with olives in his memory. Then they picked up his remains at the police department in Colorado Springs, where they found a fleet of motorcycles ready to escort them to the county line. The bikes sped ahead and stopped, with officers dismounting to salute the SUV as it passed.
“We lost it, seeing that display of respect for our partner and brother,” Miller said.
The trio tweeted updates from Nebraska and Iowa, and again when they reached Minnesota. The posts were pensive and personal, thanking Suerth’s wife for “allowing us to spend a little more time with our friend.”
Sometimes hundreds of miles passed on the road before someone spoke. Other times, they couldn’t stop laughing. The journey back home, they said, was full of shared heartache, memories and an abiding esteem for the guy with the easy laugh.
“We’ve done our damnedest to try to honor him,” Ewing said.
As soon as the SUV crossed the state line into Minnesota, the friends saw something unexpected: A shooting star streaming toward the horizon. They pulled over to get a better look.
And there, just beyond the “Minnesota Welcomes You” sign, they spotted the glow of Ursa major — a cluster of stars forming the Great Bear in the northern sky.