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On Wednesday afternoon, thousands attended an outdoor memorial service at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to remember slain campus policeman Sean Collier. Officer Collier is believed to have been murdered by the suspected Boston Marathon bombers — one now dead, one in custody.
MIT isn’t really known for people who dress up, but this time almost everyone did: slacks, dresses, many black. It took two hours for everyone to go through metal detectors and take their seats. MIT says it set up 15,000 chairs for the event, and almost all were filled. As people filed in, the sun broke through the clouds, and a light breeze fluttered the giant American flag hung from fire engine ladders behind the stage in front of them.
An honor guard carried Collier’s casket and placed it in front of the stage. His brother, Rob Rogers, looked out at the crowd with the ranks of police officers. They were wearing dress uniforms and carrying scores of flags; some units were from as far away as Canada.
"He was born to be a police officer and he lived out his dreams.”Rob Rogers, Collier's brother
"People have asked me if Sean were here, what would he think?" Rogers said. "Are you kidding me? He would love this. You got sirens, flashing lights, formations, people saluting, bagpipes, 'Taps,' the American flag. He would have loved it. He was born to be a police officer and he lived out his dreams."
Collier’s boss, MIT Police Chief John DiFava, remembered him as an inherently good guy. Someone who wanted to volunteer at a homeless shelter. Someone who went on hiking trips with MIT grad students. Someone who wanted to keep people safe.
"What made Sean so good? There are many reasons," DiFava said. "But I believe the most important is the fact that he was the same person in uniform that he was when he wasn’t wearing the uniform. His caring and compassion was genuine, without duplicity. And because of this depth of character, he was able to achieve a level of trust with people of all backgrounds that was truly remarkable."
And that, the chief said, served Collier well at MIT, where many students come from countries with different perceptions of police. DiFava said MIT was lucky to have him.
James Taylor broke up the spoken tributes with music, playing with the MIT Symphony Orchestra and with singer ensembles.
Other speakers included MIT President Rafael Reif, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden. Biden moved from the personal tributes and put Collier’s death in the larger perspective.
"Whether it’s al-Qaida Central, or two twisted, perverted, cowardly knock-off jihadis here in Boston," Biden said, "why do they do what they do?”
Biden said it’s pointless. He told the crowd Boston will not yield to terrorism, and neither will America.
"Even though I am not a Bostonian, I am absolutely certain that next year’s Boston Marathon will be bigger, more spectacular, attended by more people than any marathon in the history of the United States of America," he said. "Because that’s who you are."
A bugle sounded "Taps" at the end of the service, and then police and rescue helicopters flew over in formation.
MIT senior Hailey Kopp was wearing a badge that said “Collier Strong.” She said the ceremony moved her.
"I think it just reaffirms that Boston and MIT are a family," she said. "It’s not a city. It’s not just a campus. We really are a community and this just definitely proves that fact."
To remember Collier, MIT is creating a memorial fund in his name. A Collier Medal will be awarded to individuals who demonstrate his values. He’s also been made an honorary graduate.
This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.
This article was originally published on April 24, 2013.
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