At 2:50 p.m. Monday afternoon, the state of Massachusetts paused in silence in honor of fallen MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. At the same time, hundreds of people linked hands and formed a human chain on Vassar Street from the MIT Police Station to the memorial where Officer Collier was slain, outside the MIT Stata Center. Those attending formed a continuous chain stretching more than eight-tenths of a mile, blocking traffic at the busy intersection with Massachusetts Avenue.
Before sunrise that morning, students honored Officer Collier in a fashion more uniquely MIT, installing four hacks across campus. An old campus police cruiser — part of an exhibit on hacking in the Stata Center — was decorated with hundreds of multicolored paper cranes. A banner emblazoned with an MIT Police badge, visible from Boston, was installed on the façade of Building 10 below the Great Dome. A similar banner was hung in Lobby 7, including the words, “We remember and honor the fallen”. Finally, Alchemist, the sculpture of a thinking man in front of the Student Center, was outfitted with two more MIT Police badges, one proportionally large enough to be a shield, and one small.
While Monday held several planned events, the day was not unusual in its volume of support for the MIT Police Department and Officer Collier’s memory. Instead, it is indicative of that which has poured forth from the MIT community and beyond since Officer Collier’s passing.
Michele Pratusevich ’13, who made friends with Collier through his membership in the MIT Outing Club, stayed awake late Thursday night monitoring the events with friends. When they heard that the injured officer had passed away, they quickly began to worry that it had been Collier. Her concern increased when she noticed his absence from the MIT Police motorcade in honor of the officer early Friday morning (The fallen officer’s identity was not released until 10:19 a.m.). She began preparing a tumblr blog for others to share memories of Sean “just in case it turned out to be him” and released the link via email and Facebook as soon as his identity was confirmed. As of Monday evening the blog had received over 170 submissions and was still actively receiving them.
Even before the officers’ identity was revealed, Emily TenCate ’15 began organizing the “MIT Campus Police Breakfast Initiative” to purchase MIT Police Officers breakfast as thanks for their efforts and sacrifices. Any extra was intended to be donated to the fallen officer’s family. When Flour Bakery was informed of the destination of the breakfast Tencate was attempting to purchase, it instead donated the breakfast for the department, leaving the breakfast funds free. The effort had raised over $5,000 by 6 p.m. on Friday, which was donated, at the request of Sean’s family, to the Jimmy Fund in his honor. Sean had been a longtime supporter of the Fund.
At 2:05 a.m. Friday morning, only minutes after it was confirmed that an MIT officer had been killed, Stephanie Birkhimer ’14 sent an email to her dormitory mailing list suggesting others join her the following day in wearing black to honor the fact that an MIT Police Officer had been killed. “I’m wearing black tomorrow in memory of the MIT officer who was killed tonight, and I invite you all to do the same. That could have easily been any one of us, and I’d like to show some respect to him for protecting us, and mourn the loss of a member of our community.”
The message spread amazingly quickly, with students from across campus pledging to join her. Even despite classes being cancelled Friday, many students reported wearing black around their dormitories.
The cause of honoring Officer Collier and thanking the MIT Police Department brought students together across campus. Residents of McCormick Hall signed a card which was posted on the MIT Police Station’s window; some residents of mixed religions also gathered for a group prayer Friday afternoon. Students in Simmons printed out hundreds of pieces of paper, taping them together to form a giant MIT Police badge to hang in Simmons Dining. In Next Hall, a poster with paint handprints for the MIT Police was made in addition to numerous personal cards being written. At a party on Fifth East of East Campus, a bottle collected donations for the Jimmy Fund in Officer Collier’s honor. Flowers and messages gathered both outside the Stata Center and at the MIT Police station.
Collier remembered by colleagues
It was “in [Collier’s] DNA” to serve in law enforcement, DiFava told The Tech. In addition to his duties as an officer, Collier was involved in the Police Department’s IT operations, the MIT Outing Club, and a local homeless shelter.
“Collier was a very, very well-liked individual. Right now, everyone is very tired, but I’m afraid that when the tiredness wears off, it will hit us,” DiFava said. “He had a heck of a sense of humor. He was incredibly charismatic. He was very, very dedicated, very hardworking.”
DiFava said he was worried about the toll Collier’s death has taken on other MIT officers. “If students were to approach an officer and just say, ‘How are you doing today? We’re sorry about MIT officer Collier,’ that’d go a long, long way,” DiFava said.
Memorial Ceremony to be held Wednesday
MIT will hold a memorial ceremony for Officer Collier on Briggs Field Wednesday at noon. Several thousand police officers will be in attendance. Vice President Joe Biden will also attend, accompanied by his wife, Jill. According to the announcement, the event “will inevitably disrupt daily life on the west side of campus for some hours.” Details on how to attend are still forthcoming.
Ways to support
For those wishing to offer their condolences, MIT Police have created officer179.mit.edu. As mentioned earlier, memories of Officer Collier can be shared anonymously at http://seancolliermemories.tumblr.com. Finally, in the interests of preserving the events of the past few days, The Tech is collecting and displaying photographs of memorials and events at http://rememberingsean.thetech.com.
MIT has also established the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund. According to the official description, “It will be used to establish a Collier Medal — to be awarded to individuals who demonstrate the values of Officer Collier — and other causes.” The officer’s family has also noted that Sean was a longtime supporter of the Jimmy Fund; donations can be made in his honor.