Thousands Gather to Honor MIT Police Officer Collier
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By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service
Thousands gathered at MIT’s North Court this morning to attend a ceremony of remembrance for MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. last April 18 by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
At the ceremony, MIT architecture professor J. Meejin Yoon revealed the design of The Collier Memorial—an “open hand” structure, to remind visitors to always choose an “open hand over a closed fist,” as Collier would.
Yoon said the granite structure would be comprised of five walls interconnected through a series of reflection gardens to evoke the absence of a central figure, creating a void, but also allowing for a unifying central space of reflection.
Engraved on the memorial, it will state, “In the line of duty, Sean Collier April 18, 2013,” Yoon said.
A second inscription will come from Collier’s brother’s eulogy, saying, “Live long, like he would. Big smiles, big heart, big service, big love.”
Many present did not know Collier personally, but came out of respect for the MIT community, or because they had heard so many stories describing Collier as an exceptionally good, kind person.
Marsha Edmunds, a long time former employee in MIT’s administration, said she came because she is forever bonded to the school community.
“He was such an innocent person to be shot down the way he was,” Edmunds said, pulling her red coat tighter against the cold wind. “I didn’t know Sean personally, but he inspired a community to come together.”
Almost every seat was filled beneath the spacious white tent erected behind the Koch Cancer Research Institute adjacent to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street where Collier was killed. Quiet music hummed and the audience spoke quietly before the ceremony started. Many donned “MIT Strong” maroon and white pins that were being handed out by event planners at the mouth of the tent.
John Wuestneck, a chaplain at MIT for the past 21 years, said he knew Collier personally.
“He was a really nice guy,” Wuestneck said. He worked directly across from MIT’s police department, so he passed Collier often. “He was really good with students, good with everybody.” Wuestneck shrugged, looking down.
“What can you say?” he said.
Under a gray, overcast sky, the ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as MIT and Cambridge police forces filed into the front of the tent. The audience stood and clapped for nearly five minutes.
The MIT Police and the Cambridge Police Joint Honor Guard then performed the presentation of the flags and Lieutenant Pauline Carter-Wells of the City of Cambridge Police Department performed the National Anthem, causing the audience to erupt in applause.
MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Israel Ruiz, welcomed the guests, most of who were from the MIT community, saying, “It is an honor and a comfort to have you with us today.”
Ruiz described Collier as a constantly smiling presence on campus—someone who talked to everyone and made an effort to get to know students and faculty. He said he met Collier unexpectedly, in a time when he was in great need of a helping hand.
One frigid Friday in February 2013, when winter storm Nemo had shut down MIT’s campus and caused a traffic ban on cars and taxis, Ruiz said he found himself stranded at Boston’s South Station after a business trip to New York.
Ruiz’s colleagues, worried about his safety in the winter storm, sent an MIT cruiser to come pick him up. Shortly after, Collier pulled up and rolled down his window, smiling, Ruiz said.
“He asked me if I was a grad student,” Ruiz said, as the audience laughed heartily. “I said, “Once I was, but I don’t have a uniform.”” He smiled.
During the car ride, Ruiz said Collier mentioned his love for the MIT community. The snowy street was deserted, but Ruiz remembered Collier stopped at an intersection on their way back to campus to help a lost student.
The light was green, Ruiz said, but Collier stopped to help him anyway.
“The light then switched from red to green—a couple of times,” Ruiz said with a laugh.
Ruiz said Collier’s actions that night, just small acts of kindness, perfectly exemplified the MIT community—a community that will “always roll down the window for those who need help.”
United States Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren following Ruiz, said that terror such as last year’s events surrounding the Boston Bombings and its aftermath, can often break people’s spirits.
Boston and Cambridge, however, did not waver, she said.
“We responded with a cry of defiance, not of fear,” Warren said, and reminded the audience to hold Collier in their hearts forever.
John DiFava, MIT Police Chief, had worked closely with Collier during the officer’s 15 months at MIT’s department. Collier had been about to leave the force to join Somerville’s department.
DiFava was one of the last speakers at the ceremony, and described Collier’s immense impact on the way DiFava viewed life.
When he was a child, DiFava said he grew up with heroes like the Lone Ranger, but over time, grew cynical along with life’s many disappointments.
He lost sight of the idea that heroes still exist among men, DiFava said, but Collier taught him many life lessons that slowly changed DiFava’s hardened worldview. One thing Collier taught him was the meaning of bravery, he said.
“He was so young, but wise beyond his years,” DiFava said, looking out to the audience. “He had such insight into people, which illustrates the enormity of our loss.” His voice cracked.
While 2013 has been marked by unimaginable sadness, DiFava said he hopes 2014 will be a year with less frequent tears, a year to “turn to the sun with hope.”
As the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, donned in all black sang “Amazing Grace,” DiFava bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.
“I now know heroes still walk on our earth,” DiFava said.
Tags: boston marathon, Cambridge, Cambridge police, Justine Hofherr, memorial service, MIT, MIT police, Sean Collier