Sean Collier was more than a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the 16 months since he joined the force, he became part of the social fabric of the school.
Collier, 26, who law enforcement officials say was shot dead in an encounter with the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, used unconventional tactics to gain the trust of the MIT students he protected.
His nightly tours of the Cambridge campus sometimes included running the stairs of the 21-story Cecil and Ida Green Building in full uniform with a group of students training for mountain climbs sponsored by the school’s Outing Club. In February, he joined students on an ascent of 6,288-foot (1,916-meter) Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
“He was a regular for stair climbing,” Matthew Gilbertson, a 26-year-old MIT Ph.D student in mechanical engineering, said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes he’d be on duty, with all that heavy equipment, and we’d be in shorts and T-shirts. So it was really harder for him, but he’d keep up with us. Even if he was on duty, he would take time to be with us.”
Collier graduated from the same Municipal Police Officers’ Training Academy class as Richard Donohue, a transit officer who was wounded in a shootout with the terror suspects, Cambridge residents Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.
As he walked his beat on campus, Collier regularly stopped by the student center, Maddie Hickman, a 2011 MIT graduate who is still involved in the Outing Club, said on the school’s website. He started taking dance lessons so he could join some of the activities there, she said. He once danced the Lindy Hop in uniform, willing to be goofy to win the trust of students.
“He loved us, and we loved him,” Hickman said.
Collier was found in his car at 10:30 p.m. on April 18, about 10 minutes after police received reports of shots fired on the MIT campus, according to law enforcement officials. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“He was dedicated to his work,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone told WBUR radio. “He had a passion for his job.”
Police that night chased Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to nearby Watertown, where the older brother was killed in a shootout. Dzhokar Tsarnaev fled and was found yesterday in the backyard of a house on Franklin Street, hiding in a boat. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston with serious wounds.
Collier, who grew up in suburban Wilmington, Massachusetts, did well on a civil service exam and probably would have landed a job with the Somerville Police Department this year, city officials said. Before joining the MIT police force in January 2012, he was a civilian information-technology worker for Somerville.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of our wonderful and caring son and brother,” Collier’s family said in a statement. “Our only solace is that Sean died bravely doing what he committed his life to -- serving and protecting others.”
He was “a dedicated officer who was extremely well-liked by his colleagues and the MIT community,” MIT Police Chief John DiFava said in a statement.
The night following his death, MIT lit the Green building in a purple background highlighting a memorial ribbon almost as tall as the facade.
Today, a framed photograph of Collier, four American flags and flowers were among the items in a make-shift memorial near the site of the shooting on Vassar Street.
“You will always find those who are helping” was written in chalk in front of the memorial, words that Fred Rogers, the late children’s television star, said his mother used to comfort him whenever he saw “scary things” in the news.
As Donohue, the transit officer, remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition, neighbors in suburban Woburn spoke fondly of the 33-year-old father of an infant son.
“He’s a busy, happy guy,” said Barbara Gates, who lives across the street from Donohue, his wife, Kimberly, and their son, Richie. The Donohues moved about a year ago to the neighborhood Gates described as a private street on a hill.
“He’s a nice neighbor and so is his wife,” she said.
Donohue grew up in the Boston suburb of Winchester, graduating from the high school there in 1998. The school yearbook lists him as a member of the National Honor Society and winter track team. He went on to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute in 2002.
Paul MacMillan, chief of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police, in a statement praised Donohue for his “heroic actions.”
It wasn’t the first time. MacMillan commended him in January for saving the life of a stabbing victim a month earlier. Responding to an incident at Boston’s Chinatown subway stop, Donohue took a sweatshirt from a bystander and pressed it on the “gaping wound stopping the profuse bleeding” coming from the victim’s throat, the commendation reads.
The family has received a “tremendous outpouring” of support, according the statement. MacMillan said the family wanted to extend condolences to the Collier family. Donohue and Collier graduated from the same Municipal Police Officers’ Training Academy class, said MBTA spokesman Joseph Pesaturo.
A night after the gunfight, Donohue’s colleagues on the MBTA’s SWAT team were the ones to place the handcuffs on the second suspect hiding out in the tarp-covered boat of a Watertown resident, and “they were more than pleased to do it,” Pesaturo said.
“They were absolutely determined to apprehend the terrorist who tried to kill one of their own,” he said.