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Slain MIT officer Sean Collier: A heartbroken town says goodbye

April 20, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • As members of the Boston Red Sox pay tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon attack and its aftermath, an image of slain MIT police officer Sean Collier is displayed on the scoreboard before Saturday's game at Fenway Park.
As members of the Boston Red Sox pay tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon… (Michael Dwyer / Associated…)

WILMINGTON, Mass.--Police officers lined the road outside the Boston medical examiner's office Saturday afternoon, preparing to pay respect to MIT police officer Sean Collier, shot to death late Thursday when the bombing suspects came upon him in his car on campus.

More than a dozen officers saluted as the hearse passed with a police escort, including officers from Somerville, Mass., the department Collier had been preparing to join in June. A small crowd gathered on the sidewalk to watch and thank police officers.

The procession then made its way north to Collier's hometown of Wilmington, where his family had asked that it pass through the center of town before heading to a funeral home in Stoneham.

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Soon after, several thousand people gathered in the grassy town common for a candlelight vigil, where Collier's family and friends spoke from the bandstand. 

Somerville Deputy Police Chief Michael Cabral recalled how hard Collier had worked to become a cop, interning with the department as a teenager and paying his own way at the police academy. Cabral thought so highly of him, he recommended him for a job -- with the police force at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cabral said that the last few times he spoke with Collier as he prepared to join the department "he was ecstatic."

"His dream was coming true," Cabral said. "As you know, that dream was crushed."

MIT Police Chief John DiFava recalled how hard Collier had worked to get to know the students whose campus he policed, even joining the ski club. Recently, he emailed the chief to ask permission to serve on the board of a local homeless shelter.

"In the 16 months that he was with us, he left a legacy," said DiFava, former head of the Massachusetts State Police, calling Collier "the example to all of us wearing a uniform."

Collier's father, stepfather and siblings stood at the front of the crowd, then walked up to the bandstand to thank the town and police.

"These are the bravest men and women I know," said Collier's stepfather, Joe Rogers. "Every day they go out to keep us safe from the people who do evil in the world. I think we need to applaud them because one night it could be them walking down a dark alley."

He said Collier's mother could not attend because "she's just too crushed."

FULL COVERAGE: Boston Marathon attack

Collier's brother appeared in a Boston Red Sox cap he said he bought that day to show support for the city. He also bought a suit for the funeral, which is still being planned.

Speaking in a firm, impassioned voice, Andrew Collier said he had a message for the crowd.

"There are people out there that want to attack this country," he said. "They do it because they're jealous of what we have. All of you are here because they cannot take that away. These terrorists will never win."

He asked the crowd to "every day do something good in honor of Sean and all those who have been lost to terror."

People walked to the vigil from all over this quaint New England suburb of 21,000, some carrying handmade signs with Collier's photo saying, "Sean Collier you will be missed," others with small American flags and candles. The massive flag at the center of the town common was lowered to half-staff.

"We are Collier strong," said Michael Newhouse, chairman of the Wilmington Board of Selectmen. "God bless Sean and the other victims of this tragic week."

Collier's  police academy roommate, Travis Dixon, now an officer in Wellesley, Mass., asked the crowd to also remember the Boston subway officer wounded in pursuit of the suspects. That officer, Dick Donohue, was an academy classmate of Collier and Dixon, and some officers at the vigil planned to visit him in the hospital later Saturday.

Before the family left, the crowd began to sing "America the Beautiful," and Andrew Collier stood watching for a moment in the darkness, then clapped. Police officers lined the road as the family left, saying goodbye.

ALSO:

Boston Bruins fans at Saturday's game: Relieved but vigilant

Red Sox game: Neil Diamond live = 'So good, so good, so good'

Boston suspects threw pressure-cooker bomb at police, officials say

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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