SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 20, 2013

University mourns slain MIT officer

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Sean Collier was born to be a police officer.

The 2009 Salem State University graduate talked about it all the time: he wanted to be a cop.

“It was pretty much a dream of his,” said Kristen Kuehlne, a criminal justice professor at Salem State.

Amanda Orcutt, his college adviser, remembers the first time Collier walked into her office. “He just said, ‘I want to be a police officer.’ Everything he did from that point forward was toward that goal.”

On Thursday night, Collier, a 26-year-old MIT police officer, was shot and killed by suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.

The young officer responded to a disturbance on the MIT campus and was shot several times in his vehicle, according to police. He was found around 10:30 p.m. and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

After working in a civilian role with Somerville Police, the Wilmington native was hired in January 2012 by MIT campus police. MIT Chief John DiFava described him as a dedicated officer.

At Salem State, Collier is remembered for his intelligence, dedication, sense of humor and heart.

“He was a good person,” said Orcutt. “He just wanted to help. He had a sense it was his obligation as a human being to help other people.”

Orcutt, an associate professor of criminal justice, not only taught Collier and served as his academic advisor, she also traveled with him and other students on a study abroad to England.

After graduation, they kept in touch. Last year, he emailed her with the news he had been hired at MIT.

“He was excited about that,” she said.

Serving as a police officer was just an extension of the kind of person Collier was, Orcutt said.

“It wasn’t just that (being a police officer) was his life goal,” she said. “He did that in everything he did. He was a first responder. He helped people with their bags. If someone tripped and fell down on the sidewalk, he was the first to ... reach out his hand. That was who he was.”

Yesterday, Orcutt’s daughter, who was 8 years old on the trip to England, reminded her mother of the Salem State student who looked out for her.

“Sean was the one who, every time we were crossing a busy street, would grab her hand,” Orcutt said.

Collier made the dean’s list at Salem State and graduated with honors.

While in college, he worked at the Bertucci’s restaurant in Vinnin Square. Even there, his dream wasn’t far away.

“Sean was a server but also worked the bar sometimes,” Priscilla Swain, a Salem State graduate, wrote in an e-mail. “When things were slow, I would pull up a chair and just talk to him. He was so easy to talk to.

“Sean was so funny. His humor was smart and infectious. ... Sean talked constantly about being a police officer. He was focused on his career. He was excited to follow his dream. He told stories about his experiences in different police settings and couldn’t wait to be doing police work full time.

“When he left the restaurant to fulfill his dream, I was so happy for him and proud of his passion.”

In a strange twist to this tragic story, reports surfaced yesterday that Collier and one of the bombing suspects have links to the same boxing gym.

Bob Covino, who co-founded the Somerville Boxing Club, said that 26-year-old bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev trained at the gym several years ago. Collier began volunteering at the gym seven or eight months ago, according to Covino.

Covino said it’s very unlikely the two men crossed paths at the gym, because he hasn’t seen Tsarnaev for several years and Collier came over only recently.

Covino said Collier had been helping teach the younger boxers.

Yesterday, Collier’s family issued the following statement:

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our wonderful and caring son and brother, Sean Collier. Our only solace is that Sean died bravely doing what he committed his life to – serving and protecting others. We are thankful for the outpouring of support and condolences offered by so many people. We are grieving his loss and ask that the media respect our privacy at this time.”

At Salem State, Collier made a lasting impression.

“If I were to have predicted one student who would spend a lifetime of exemplary service and making extraordinary contributions to law enforcement, it would have been Sean Collier,” Carol Facella, a criminal justice professor, wrote in a statement.

“Sean will continue to be an inspiration and model for all of us at Salem State University. His spirit will live on in all of us.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.