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Officer slain at MIT loved his role

Sean Collier of MIT saw police work as his dream. A transit officer was wounded later.

April 19, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey and Wes Venteicher
  • Sean Collier is believed to have been caught in the suspects’ escape path on campus.
Sean Collier is believed to have been caught in the suspects’ escape… (MIT )

For Sean Collier, police work was a calling, an academic pursuit and a dream. On Thursday night, he died on duty — in what police believe was the fourth death in a violent rampage wrought by the Boston bombing suspects.

The MIT campus police officer, known for his quick smile and passion for his career, was found shot multiple times in his cruiser late Thursday after a confrontation with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, police said.

Details of the 26-year-old's killing were scarce on Friday, as authorities continued a massive manhunt, but Collier appeared to have been caught in the suspects' escape path, police said.

An MIT police statement said Collier was killed after an altercation on a street corner on the Cambridge campus. He was found with multiple gunshot wounds at 10:30 p.m., 10 minutes after police received reports of gunfire, according to the Middlesex district attorney's office. He was declared dead at the hospital soon after.

Police followed the suspects to Watertown, where suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and another officer was injured in a shoot-out. Richard H. Donohue Jr., an officer with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, remained hospitalized in critical, but stable condition with a single gunshot wound.

Donohue, a three-year veteran of the force "never hesitated in fully engaging the terrorists," MBTA Police Chief Paul MacMillan said, adding that Donohue's family had asked him to extend condolences to Collier's family.

The slain officer's family issued a statement saying they were "heartbroken."

"Our only solace is that Sean died bravely doing what he committed his life to — serving and protecting others," the family said in a statement issued to the Boston Globe. "We are thankful for the outpouring of support and condolences offered by so many people. We are grieving his loss and ask that the media respect our privacy at this time."

Collier lived in Somerville, Mass., just outside of Boston, but was a native of Wilmington, a northern suburb where his mother and stepfather still live. He studied criminal justice at Salem State University, graduating with honors in 2009. Determined to become a police officer, he worked first as a civilian employee for the Somerville Police Department and then joined the MIT force in January 2012.

"Sean was one of these guys who really looked at police work as a calling," said MIT Police Chief John DiFava. "He was born to be a police officer."

Collier quickly became involved with the students he protected. He joined the MIT Outing Club early last year and liked to scale mountains in sub-zero winter conditions, MIT graduate student and club member Matthew Gilbertson said.

When Collier first approached the group's members, he was in uniform. The students were initially uneasy about a uniformed officer, but quickly warmed up to Collier and invited him to join, according to an account posted on an Outing Club memorial online.

Gilbertson said such interactions between Collier and students were common. "Sean was always smiling," he said. "He was somehow able to make friends with just about everybody almost immediately, even though he was wearing a uniform. We were sort of happy to have a guy like him protecting us on campus."

As a student at Salem State University, Collier stood out as having both the temperament and brains for police work. "That was always his dream, that's what he wanted to do. He really took the academic part very seriously," said Kristen Kuehnle, a criminal justice professor at Salem State who taught Collier.

Kuehnle said Collier traveled to England as part of a course on rehabilitating offenders and impressed professors with his articulate presentations. She remembered his thoughtful paper about female offenders, which analyzed a documentary about Mexican women who become drug mules.

"He was the kind of the person you would want to be in law enforcement," she said. "He had the right kind of thinking. He was open-minded, he was nice, he was so gregarious and outgoing. He could fit in anywhere and he never wanted to exclude."

Sympathy for the family poured in on Friday. NASCAR driver and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson issued his condolence. Collier's brother, Andrew Collier, is a machinist at Hendrick Motorsports.

"We are one big family and it's sad and unfortunate to see a fellow teammate and his family going through such a tough time," Johnson, a Hendrick's driver, said.

Collier and his siblings regularly visited their family home in Wilmington, a neighbor said.

On Friday, the quiet cul-de-sac in a blue-collar neighborhood with single-family colonials was crowded with the cars of friends coming to offer comfort, just as Collier's mother, Kelley Rogers, a grief counselor, has done for others.

"She has helped numerous people. Anybody who has gotten help from her loves her," said Sandra Sartori, a friend and neighbor. "All I can say is that now they are grieving. They're just dealing with this the only way they can. I wish this didn't happen."

Times staff writers Noam N. Levey and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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