CAMBRIDGE — A year after MIT police Officer Sean Collier was gunned down on campus, the university is finishing plans for a permanent memorial to honor him. A professor still bakes cookies every month for the university police. And a team, dubbed MIT Strong, is training to run the Boston Marathon in his memory.
“Every day I see little hints that people are still thinking of Sean,’’ said Sally Miller, a sophomore who befriended Collier. “I might see his picture just hanging in a window, or I might see someone with his name on their backpack.’’
As MIT prepares to mark the first anniversary of Collier’s death on April 18 by hosting a community picnic and unveiling plans for the memorial, officials said the remembrances will pay tribute to the character and strength of the 26-year-old officer.
“The community has moved through phases, from a state of shock... almost like not being able to move right at the time of the event, to really a very strong sentiment of coming together and supporting each other,” said Israel Ruiz, executive vice president and treasurer of MIT.
Some 1,900 individuals and groups have donated to the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund, raising more than $500,000 and making it the largest amount ever raised for a memorial fund at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ruiz said.
The money will be used for annual scholarships in Collier’s name at MIT and at the Massachusetts Police Academy; a medal for those who embody the officer’s character and qualities; and for the permanent memorial that will replace a temporary stone marker and wooden cross on the campus at the corner of Main and Vassar Streets in Cambridge. It is near the spot where Collier was killed, allegedly by the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, as he sat in his cruiser.
MIT Police Chief John DiFava said Collier’s name will be added to two walls listing officers killed in the line of duty, at the Cambridge Police Department and at a memorial in Washington, D.C.
“If not for the incredible support,’’ said DiFava, former head of the Massachusetts State Police, “it would have been almost insurmountable to get past it, because this was so much worse than any other line-of-duty deaths I was involved in.”
Every month since Collier died, professor Lorna Gibson, who teaches material sciences and engineering, bakes cookies and delivers them to the MIT police station.
There have been countless other gestures to pay tribute to Collier and support those who mourn him.
“It’s not just groups of people, friends, or colleagues; it’s across the board,” said DiFava, adding that the outpouring has continued “at the same degree it was last April.”
It’s rare for college police officers to die in the line of duty. Collier’s slaying stunned the community. In his 15 months on the force, he had become part of the fabric of the school.
“He touched so many lives around campus; people knew him directly or indirectly,” said Kris Brewer, the webmaster for MIT’s School of Engineering, who met Collier when he joined MIT’s Outing Club, a group of outdoor enthusiasts. “He was a bit of a techno geek, too... He fit into [MIT’s] technology culture. He was working on websites.”
Collier loved the outdoors. He hiked mountains in New Hampshire and Newfoundland, with members of the Outing Club.
“The first time I met Sean was sitting around a campfire in the mountains up in New Hampshire,” said Miller, also a member of the club. She thought he was a student until she returned to school and he greeted her in a hallway, dressed in his uniform.
“He fit in so well, and he just connected with the community,” Miller said.
While on duty, Collier sometimes joined a group of students that met weekly to run laps up and down the stairs of MIT’s 21-story Green Building, according to Brewer.
“He ran in uniform, with his shoes and his belt,” Brewer said. The night before Collier was killed, according to Brewer, the officer led a group of students onto the rooftop to watch the sunset.
Brewer and Miller are among 38 members of the MIT Strong team who plan to run the Boston Marathon this month.
The group of students, alumni, and supporters, including runners from as far away as California, have already raised $131,000 through its website, http://MITStrong.mit.edu. The profits will go to the Collier memorial fund.
“We have been coping for a while, and we will continue to cope,” Ruiz said. “We want to be defined by that strength of our community, not so much by the event itself.”
He added: “We know that standing by our values, by our spirit... the things Sean exemplified and illustrated will make us move forward.”