BIDDEFORD — While Dylan Collins was headed down a dark, violent path by age 18, the men he is accused of killing – best friends since childhood – seemed to have bright futures.

James Ford, 21, and Michael Moore, 23, prided themselves on their ability to fend for themselves and take care of those they loved. Ford’s half sister, Justine DiPietro, said her brother began working at age 16 and moved in with Moore to help his friend care for his ailing mother, Marie, in Moore’s family home in Biddeford.

“My brother was starting to provide for people as soon as he could,” DiPietro said. “He was amazing. I can’t even explain what it’s like not to have him.”

After Marie Moore’s death in April, Ford and Moore rented their first apartment together at 35 Main St., just months before the Sept. 18 fire that destroyed the building.

Moore’s sister, Tonya Dakin-Dalbo, who lives in New York, agreed through emails to share pictures of her brother but declined to be interviewed for this story.

DiPietro alternates between sympathy for Collins’ mother, Donna Pitcher, who tried in vain to get help for her son, and disgust with Collins, who is accused of intentionally setting the fire that killed the two young men.

“It’s hard for people to understand how sympathetic I can be, but at the same time I think it’s pathetic that Dylan did it,” DiPietro said.

Although she and her brother had different fathers, they grew up side by side. When she moved into her own apartment, Ford, whom she called by his middle name, Javon, moved in with her for a while before deciding to live with the Moores.

“I’m 16 months older, and I can’t remember a day without him,” DiPietro said. “Me and Javon were really close.”

Ford and Moore met as children riding the school bus and became immediate friends, she said.

Ford’s father was black, and he was taunted by the other kids at school, who were mostly white. But Moore, who was originally from New York, was unfazed by Ford’s skin color, DiPietro said.

“My brother grew up in Maine as a black person. People were not friendly to him,” she said. “My brother didn’t grow up with people being nice to him. He just had the ambition to be nice to people.”

Over time, the two boys became as close as siblings, and Ford spent much of his time at the Moore home, helping his friend take care of his mother.

“The reason Javon was OK going to work to take care of Marie (Moore) was because she always took care of him,” DiPietro said. “She was a very motherly figure to him.”

Ford began working at Burger King as soon as he was old enough to work, eventually dropping out of high school with the intention of getting his GED. He went on to work full time at Dunkin’ Donuts in Saco, where he was a favorite employee of the regular customers, she said.

But what made Ford shine was his love of education and his passion for writing, reading and politics, she said.

“I think he wanted to be a writer. He really had a passion communicating and sending out his point of view,” DiPietro said. “He was so good at explaining things, it was like listening to music.”

DiPietro believed in her brother’s strength so much that she assumed after first learning that he had been injured from smoke inhalation in the fire that he would recover over time.

He was unconscious in the hospital when she first saw him after the fire. In each of the following days, she posted updates of what she thought was his recovery on Facebook to her friends and her brother’s friends.

“James is a fighter,” she wrote Sept. 19, following a visit with him the day after the fire. She wrote that she read aloud stacks of get-well cards that people had sent.

By Sept. 24, she seemed optimistic that her brother’s fever had broken and that the hospital would give a date when he could wake from a medically induced coma after he fought a bout of pneumonia.

“James is doing good and is slowly waking up,” DiPietro wrote in a Facebook update Sept. 30.

But into October, the tone of her posts lost their optimism. “James fought as hard as he could,” she wrote Oct. 10.

DiPietro, a certified nursing assistant, said she sat alone with her brother in the hospital before making the decision to take him off life support. Doctors told her that he would never recover from his injuries.

“I didn’t want him to suffer anymore. It came down to, he wasn’t going to survive,” she said. “He would have wanted it that way.”

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