Brother tells throng at Briggs Field that MIT Police Officer Sean A. Collier was ‘born to be a police officer’
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
CAMBRIDGE — The brother of slain MIT Police Officer Sean A. Collier today remembered him as a person born to be a lawman, a person with a compassionate heart that drove him to help others, and a country music fan with two left feet who still managed to learn how to square dance.
“He was born to be a police officer and he lived his dreams,” Rogers added.
Sean Collier was slain last Thursday, allegedly by the Boston Marathon terror bombing suspects, as he sat in his cruiser. The suspects had allegedly killed three and injured 264 in the Marathon bombings three days before.
Rogers did not mention the way his brother’s life ended, but instead focused on his life, which, despite its brevity, deeply impressed his siblings, his law enforcement colleagues, and the MIT community, where he had worked since last year as a police officer.
“If there is anything that we can learn from this, it is the morals and beliefs that Sean exemplified during his time in service: respect — support — and caring,’’ Rogers said. “He has taught me that a smile to a stranger, a simple hello, an outreached hand, can ultimately change how people treat each other.’’
Rogers vowed to be more like his younger brother. “Comfort someone when they are having a bad day. Offer some of your time to help to someone out. Tell your parents that you love them for no other reason than you just do. Hug your family members, all of us. Try something new.”
Rogers said his brother would blast country music from his Ford F-150 when he drove down the street. Rogers recalled that his brother loved the Zac Brown band in particular and especially a song called “Toes.’’
Rogers recited the lyrics: “I got my toes in the water/Ass in the sand/Not a worry in the world/A cold beer in my hand/Life is good today/Life is good today.’’
The memorial service began with bagpipes skirling and an honor guard of MIT officers carrying Collier’s casket into Briggs Field.
Collier, 27, was killed in a wave of violence that began with the Boston Marathon bombing and came to a violent end on the streets of Watertown, where alleged terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was fatally wounded during a gun battle with police and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, captured after a 20-hour manhunt.
But for the thousands at the field, most of whom wore “Collier Strong’’ badges on their shirts, the focus was Collier, who gained a wide following among staff, students and fellow officers in the short time he was a member of the force at the elite university.
Biden delivered emotional remarks at the service, telling Collier’s family that he knows there is no true closure for someone who loses a loved one traumatically. In 1972, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and their one-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash; two other children survived.
“I hope you find some solace in this moment of extreme grief. ... No child should pre-decease their parents,” Biden said.
Biden referred to the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knockoff jihadis.”
He also said that Boston’s reaction at the time of the explosions – police officers, civilians, medical personnel and soldiers all rushed to help the wounded – was a sign of how ineffective terror campaigns are against the American people.
“If the purpose of terror is to instill fear, you saw none of it here in Boston. Boston, you sent a powerful message to the world,’’ Biden said. “The truth is, on every frontier, terror as a weapon is losing, it’s not gaining adherents. What galls them the most is that America does remain that shining city on a hill.’’
In his remarks, MIT Chaplain Robert M. Randolph said the death of Collier has left family, friends, colleagues, and students stunned and in pain.
“We are a community committed to understanding. And we are also a people mourning loss to senseless violence and calculated brutality,’’ Randolph said. “We reach out today because we do not understand why Sean Collier was taken away from his family, his brothers and sisters in law enforcement, his friends on this campus.’’
Randolph added, “We say thank you for Sean. For his gifts. His compassion. His energy. His sense of right and wrong. We hold him in memory and we pray that we might see him again. In the meantime, we live ... by the virtues he exemplified.’’
“Officer Collier did not just have a job at MIT, he had a life at MIT,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif.
MIT Police Chief John DiFava said that many in law enforcement have a variety of reasons for becoming police officers. But for Collier, it was clear that he was born to be policeman.
“There are those few born to enter the profession. ... I believe Sean was one of those few,” said DiFava.
DiFava said the key to Collier’s success as a police officer was that he was the same person when he put on the uniform and when he took it off. “Sean, we love you,’’ DiFava said to applause. “We will never forget you.’’
Streets, including Memorial Drive, the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, and streets around Briggs Field, where the service is being held were closed. A complete list is available at the Cambridge city website.
More than 10,000 people gathered at the event, which took place amid strict security screening. People had to pass through metal detectors and present an MIT identification card and a government-issued ID, such as a license, to enter. Backpacks were banned.
Snipers weree positioned on top of the Simmons Building, and a large number of K-9 police dogs and their police officer handlers were deployed.
A private funeral Mass was held Tuesday for Collier, a Wilmington native, at St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham.
At the conclusion of the service today, State Trooper Michael P. Crowley played the traditional “Taps’”; a small fleet of four law enforcement helicopters flew over the field, where a giant American flag hung between two fire trucks.
The family planned a private burial service today for Collier, whose casket was covered with a pall bearing a design a thin blue line on a black background, which has become the informal symbol of law enforcement in recent years.
As the thousands of officers filed out of the field, the people in the audience broke out into sustained applause as the law enforcement officials walked past them.Martin Finucane and Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.