In a moving tribute to the life and legacy of fallen MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, some 1,500 members of the MIT community and the Collier family — along with local and state political representatives — honored the young officer’s strength, devotion, and vitality on the first anniversary of his death. This morning’s gathering took place mere feet from the spot where Collier’s life was taken on April 18, 2013.
At the ceremony of remembrance, Cambridge Mayor David Maher announced that the corner of Vassar and Main streets, near where the violent confrontation took place, would be renamed as “Officer Sean Collier Square,” which the mayor described as “a small way that the city can show our appreciation.” Plans for a permanent memorial at the site — a granite structure symbolizing an open hand but with an empty space for reflection at its center, designed by associate professor of architecture J. Meejin Yoon — were also unveiled at the ceremony.
“I grew up at a time when young boys had heroes,” said John DiFava, MIT’s director of facilities operations and security, and also the chief of the MIT Police. Over the years, his belief in heroes had faded, DiFava said, but thanks to Collier’s example, “although it came at an awful price, I now know that heroes still walk on God’s earth.”
Collier “was truly one of the brave ones,” DiFava said. “We must never forget the price he paid so this very special community could be safe. I will never forget the lessons he taught me. … The very best way we can honor his memory is to live our lives the way he lived his: with honor, kindness and compassion.”
Several of those who knew Collier spoke of his extraordinary interest in, and connection with, those around him — and his drive to participate in every possible way with the life and activity of the campus.
Israel Ruiz, MIT’s executive vice president and treasurer, recalled an encounter with Collier just two months before the officer’s death, when he was dispatched to drive Ruiz and his wife home after the city was paralyzed by a snowstorm. As they were stopped at a red light — even though there were no other cars around — a stranger approached the car holding a map, trying to find his way. Collier, Ruiz recounted, rolled down his window and spent several minutes helping the man, who was unfamiliar with Boston, figure out where he was going.
Two months later, Ruiz said, on the evening of last April 18, strangers once again approached Collier’s car, this time as he sat behind the wheel of his police cruiser on campus. The result, Ruiz said, was a senseless tragedy.
“I remember Sean as he was that snowy night, …helping a stranger,” Ruiz said, noting that MIT remains “a community that will always roll down the window when asked for help.”
In the outpouring of love and support from the community, the nation, and the world since that tragic event, Ruiz said, “MIT has been lifted in up countless ways over the past year. … The magnitude of the support I witnessed this past year is unmatched in my experience.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that after horrifying events — such as last April’s Boston Marathon bombings, which were followed three days later by Collier’s murder — “such terror can break a people’s spirit.” But she added that in this case, “we did not waver.” Collier’s service and vitality will be remembered, she said: “He will always live on in our hearts.”
Sen. Edward Markey likened vigilance against violence to a marathon: long, hard, and at times, perilous. But, he said, “The courage of people like Sean, and others in law enforcement, will always triumph over terrorism… Love will always triumph over fear.”
Sara Ferry, an MIT graduate student in nuclear science and engineering who knew Collier through his involvement in activities such as the MIT Outing Club, said, “Sean was a friend to everyone on campus. … Sean embodied the spirit of MIT and its students. He sought out challenges and adventure. He wanted to engineer clever solutions to every problem he encountered.”
“Sean was taken from us in a moment of extraordinary evil, but that does not change how we remember him,” Ferry said. “Sean’s life was lost, but his spirit remains and has been amplified a hundredfold. … Love will be his legacy… This community has been strengthened by countless new bonds of friendship and support.”
As part of the many tributes and honors to Collier’s memory, two teams of runners — one composed of MIT students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and the other of Collier’s family and friends — will run in Monday’s Boston Marathon in his honor. Members of those teams took part in this morning’s anniversary tribute.
As Jay Perault, deputy chief of the MIT Police, summed it up, “Sean has changed us all forever. … It was an honor to know Sean, it was an honor to work with him. … His values, compassion and love of life are what I remember.”