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10 years later: Remembering MIT officer killed by Boston Marathon bombers

Officer Sean Collier was killed during an encounter with the Tsarnaev brothers who were responsible for the bombing

Sean Collier.jpg

The love and respect the MIT community has for Sean Collier lives on a decade after his death.

MIT Police

By Irene Rotondo

BOSTON — In the wake and destruction of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which left three dead and hundreds injured, another death resulted from the tragedy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier was killed during an encounter with the Tsarnaev brothers who were responsible for the bombing.

The love and respect the MIT community has for Collier lives on a decade after his death.

MIT’s chief of police, John DiFava, believes he was the last one to see 26-year-old Collier alive before he was shot to death by the two suspects responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings.

DiFava had been leaving the campus that day and spotted Collier on duty, stopping to talk with him. Collier had been called in to help patrol the MIT campus in the aftermath of the bombing, hours before the official manhunt began.

“We only talked for a few minutes. I said, ‘Be careful,’ and I went home,” recalled DiFava.

“I remember going upstairs in the bedroom to change, because I had a suit and tie on. And I remember the phone rang... It was my deputy chief, he said, ‘Look, Sean Collier was shot.’”

“I said, ‘What? I just talked to him like 20 minutes ago,’” DiFava said. “And I think I was probably the last person to see him alive.”

Collier had been ambushed from behind while in his vehicle, shot at close range through the head. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died soon after the encounter during a later shootout with police, was believed to be the one who shot him.

DiFava said Collier was genuinely a good person and well-liked in the community.

“He was just a good kid and he fit in here well; the community loved him, I had a good relationship with him. I thought he was a character... I mean, he really had a hell of a sense of humor, he was just a nice young man,” DiFava said.

DiFava stated the memory of Collier is “alive and well” at both in the people at the department and the people at MIT.

“Just the other day, I was at one of the [MIT] departments and I was talking with a faculty member, and [Collier’s] name came up,” DiFava said.

“She said to me, ‘I remember him coming into this department, and just being so interested in what the students did — the research that they do,’” said DiFava.

“You know, she says, ‘I think of him every day.’ So I think that’s the legacy... it’s the personal touch where people remember him. And even though it’s been 10 years, he just has not been forgotten.”

A sculpture of ‘remembrance and healing’

Meejin Yoon was a professor in the Department of Architecture at MIT at the time of Collier’s death, and she was commissioned to create the Collier Memorial on MIT’s campus in honor of the officer a year after his death.

Yoon said she worked closely with those who loved Collier during what she called an “emotional process” to create the sculpture of “remembrance and healing,” she said. The massive artwork is comprised of 32 blocks of solid granite, all leaning on one another. “Each block supports the other,” Yoon explained.

“In the initial stages of the design process, we spoke to Sean’s colleagues and friends and a clear definition of strength emerged: strength coming from the many, and the many coming together to support each other, to lean on each other,” Yoon said.

Yoon said because the memorial is located at the site of Collier’s death, the design is supposed to “impart a deeply human touch to this community space to reflect personal loss alongside community loss.”

“As a member of the MIT community, I remember the tragedy weighed heavily on the whole campus,” Yoon said.

Yoon worked closely with a Collier Memorial Committee, which included faculty, students, administrators and members of the MIT campus police. She said that working with people who knew Collier was important to the design process.

“Talking to those close to Sean and learning about his humanity, what he loved and cared for, as well as his impact on others really opened up the conversation around the design of the memorial,” she added.

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