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One Year Ago, Wilmington Proved to be 'Collier Strong'

On the one year anniversary of the death of Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, look back on the coverage from a somber time.

Sean Collier.
Sean Collier.
Editor's Note: The following article ran one year ago following the death of Wilmington native Sean Collier, who was killed in the line of duty by the alleged Boston Marathon bombers while Collier was working as a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Friday, April 18, marks the one-year anniversary of Collier's death.

By Matt Schooley

Thursday night was the final shift for Sean Collier. But the waning moments of the 26-year-old’s life will never be forgotten.

“His life was short,” said Somerville Deputy Police Chief Paul Upton. “But his impact was great.”

The Somerville resident and Wilmington native was identified on Friday as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer shot and killed on Thursday in his police car.

His death led to the manhunt for two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, one who was killed and a second who was captured hiding in a boat behind a Watertown home.

But his death also united communities from throughout Massachusetts and far beyond as residents remember a man who heroically lost his life during a week of horror following Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.

A Dream Nearly Fulfilled

Everything Collier did in his professional life was with one goal in mind – to protect and serve.

“His dream was to become a police officer,” said Upton, who supervised Collier in Somerville. “He wanted to be out there helping community, enforcing the law and serving the people. That was his mission and he absolutely loved it.”

Collier worked as an auxiliary police officer for the Somerville Police Department from 2006 until 2009. He volunteered hundreds of hours monitoring playgrounds, schools and special events.

While serving in that role, Collier also applied for and was chosen for a job in the department as a records clerk. Quickly, his colleagues realized his talent for working with computers.

Collier was selected to create the Somerville Police Department’s website, which is still used today. He also got the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages up and running and assisted the Information Technology officer with computer related issues.

But that wasn’t enough for Collier. He also asked to self-sponsor himself in the Police Academy so that when a job opening came up in law enforcement, he could be selected without having to then complete academy training. The department backed him in his request, and Collier scored near the top of his class.

In January 2012, Collier was offered the position at MIT and developed a sparkling reputation within his new department. But he remained on the radar within the Somerville Police Department.

In June of this year, Upton said the town planned to offer Collier a full-time position as a Somerville police officer.

Heroic in Death

When Collier suited up for duty on Thursday night, it was impossible for him to know that it would be his final patrol.

Sean Collier was ambushed in his police cruiser by two men who were the center of a manhunt that terrorized the state and region, and that drew the support of the nation.

“He has become a national hero because his death drove home the point that these guys were not through killing people,” said Upton. “They went on a rampage after killing Sean. It was Sean’s death that caused national outrage and brought police agencies from across the region together to stop these men.”

On Thursday night, Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone attended his city’s candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings. Shortly after he returned home, his phone rang. Upon answering, he received the news that the nation would soon learn.

One of Somerville’s own paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

“Sean is a hero, and I do not say that lightly. He gave his life to save ours, and to bring those responsible to justice,” said Curtatone. “His sacrifice led to the arrest and capture of the perpetrators, and saved many more lives. I’m proud and honored to say he worked in the city of Somerville. He will always be a part of the Somerville family. He was an outstanding young man who had his life cut far too short. But he is truly a hero.”

Grieving for the Collier Family

While the nation watched, a family wept.

About 20 minutes after Collier was shot, Upton received the news. Somerville police officers arrived at the hospital along with Collier, and they soon learned that the 26-year-old’s wounds were too much to survive.

“The first thing you think of is his family,” said Upton. “You think about the waste of a life. A young man with so much potential being assassinated for no good reason at all. I don’t know what these young men were trying to prove or accomplish, but like the President said, whatever it was, they failed.”

Though Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis did not work with Collier, the loss of life hit close to home for him.

Losing a fellow member of his police brotherhood brought with it a great deal of sorrow. But knowing the family that grieved the most lived in the town he serves every day brought with it even greater sorrow.

“It’s devastating,” said Begonis. “Any time someone from law enforcement is taken from us, it is overwhelming. For us, the first and foremost focus is on the family and doing whatever we can to support them.”

Always a Wildcat

Collier lived and worked in Somerville. But his death also left a second community grieving.

A member of the Wilmington High School Class of 2004, Collier left an impact on the community before leaving and pursuing his law enforcement career in Somerville. His family still lives in Wilmington.

“The entire Wilmington school community mourns the loss of Sean Collier,” said Wilmington Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton. “Our hearts are broken. We send our thoughts and prayers to Sean’s family and friends. He will always be a Wilmington Wildcat.”

On Saturday night, Wilmington will host a candlelight vigil in Collier’s honor. Residents are expected to pack Town Common beginning at 7:30 p.m. Collier’s body will be driven by the vigil, and the town hopes residents will line the streets in his memory.

While friends and family grieve the senseless loss of life that took place on Thursday night, they are joined by a nation that recognizes Collier’s heroic death.

“Being a situation that involves things on an international level, we know the Town of Wilmington isn’t the only community that is grieving,” said Begonis. “Understanding that and respecting that, we are all touched by this and at times is overwhelming. We are trying to pay the due respect that Sean certainly deserves.”

The Thin Blue Line

Sean Collier did not know that he would lose his life on Thursday, April 17. But deep down he knew it was a possibility.

“This is a unique profession,” said Begonis. “The sacrifice isn’t just the officers who risk putting their lives on the line, but also the families who know the risks involved for their loved ones.”

Deputy Chief Upton said that while he was relieved when news reports surfaced that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been killed in firefight with police in Watertown and the suspect’s brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was eventually captured, it didn’t ease the pain of losing the man he supervised in the Somerville Police Department.

“Their capture means that a chapter in this saga has now come to a close. But it’s not over,” said Upton. “There was a lot of consoling in our station because we all know that the grieving is not over. We have some rough days coming up. It’s difficult for all of us. But we know that when we take this job there is a risk, and everyone knows that risk.”

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone felt similarly. But he also knew that when Sean Collier donned his police badge and walked out the door on Thursday, he unknowingly left for work to put his life on the line and help capture two men who allegedly brought terror to thousands of American citizens.

“When the smoke had finally cleared and those responsible had been killed or captured, I don’t know if it was vindication because I was still pretty sad,” said Curtatone. “It was just the realization that Sean Collier gave his life for us. He stood on the front lines. He was on duty not knowing what would happen that evening. What happened to him led to the arrest, capture and elimination of these terrorists."

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