BOSTON – Sean Collier was more than a police officer for Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the 16 months since he joined the force, he became part of the social fabric of the school.
Collier, 26, who law enforcement officials say was shot dead in an encounter with the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, used unconventional tactics to gain the trust of the MIT students he protected.
His nightly tours of the Cambridge campus sometimes included running the stairs of the 21-story Cecil and Ida Green Building in full uniform with a group of students training for mountain climbs sponsored by the school’s Outing Club. In February, he joined students on an ascent of 6,288-foot Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
“He was a regular for stair climbing,” Matthew Gilbertson, 26, an MIT Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes he’d be on duty, with all that heavy equipment, and we’d be in shorts and T-shirts. So it was really harder for him, but he’d keep up with us. Even if he was on duty, he would take time to be with us.”
Collier graduated from the same Municipal Police Officers’ Training Academy class as Richard Donohue, a transit officer who was wounded in a shootout with the terror suspects, Cambridge residents Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.
As he walked his beat on campus, Collier regularly stopped by the student center, Maddie Hickman, a 2011 MIT graduate who is still involved in the Outing Club, said on the school’s website.
He started taking dance lessons so he could join some of the activities there, she said.
He once danced the Lindy Hop in uniform, willing to be goofy to win the trust of students.
“He loved us, and we loved him,” Hickman said.
Collier was found in his car at 10:30 p.m. Thursday about 10 minutes after police received reports of shots fired on the MIT campus, according to law enforcement officials. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“He was dedicated to his work,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone told WBUR radio. “He had a passion for his job.”
Collier, who grew up in suburban Wilmington, did well on a civil service exam and probably would have landed a job with the Somerville Police Department this year, city officials said. Before joining the MIT police force in January 2012, he was a civilian information-technology worker for Somerville.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of our wonderful and caring son and brother,” Collier’s family said in a statement.
“Our only solace is that Sean died bravely doing what he committed his life to — serving and protecting others.”