Sean Collier’s Death Spotlighted in Day 2 of Tsarnaev Trial Sentencing Phase
As soon as Officer Sean Collier found a steady job, he made two key purchases: a New England Patriots season ticket and a pickup truck to cart his large, “Brady Bunch” family to Gillette Stadium for tailgates.
However, before he could make the drive down the narrow stretch of Route 1 to Foxborough in his new truck, Collier was shot and killed execution-style.
On the second day of testimony in the sentencing phase of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted on three charges in Collier’s death, the prosecution placed the slain MIT police officer in the context of the blended family he left behind and the community he served.
For as long as stepfather Joe Rogers, a Massachusetts assistant attorney general of 22 years, and brother Andrew Collier can remember, Sean wanted to be a police officer. As a child, Sean would chase Andrew around making siren noises and placing his older brother under arrest. Driving down the highway, Sean would spot an officer pulling over a motorist and sing the theme song from the television series COPS.
“With six kids, things get broken and nobody knows anything,” Rogers said. “But you could look at Sean and he would spill the beans.” When one of his sisters once went to high school in one outfit and changed into another upon arrival, Sean promptly reported it to his parents.
“Sean was someone that was a moral compass,” Andrew said. “It was black and white, what’s right and what’s wrong. He was the one always fighting for what’s right. I would do something wrong and I would get a morality speech from him.” One of these admonishments came after Andrew tried killing a bug.
Sean’s sole run-in with the law came in the hours following the Boston Red Sox’s World Series win in 2004. Sean, underage at the time, was drinking a beer in a basement while a riot broke out upstairs. Rather than fleeing at first sight of police lights, Sean stayed put and allowed a Boston cop to book him for minor possession of alcohol.
“I was looking at the police report and thinking, ‘Maybe I raised the kid wrong,’” Rogers said, met with laughter from the courtroom.
Though the arrest ate at Sean, he found meaning in it, telling his mother, “God probably did this so I know what it’s like to be arrested.”
It was this empathy, this proclivity for understanding, that set Sean apart, MIT Police Chief John DiFava said. He made a habit of chatting with passersby on campus, which made him popular with the student body. He helped out with the Outing Club–“Just a bunch of kids who wanted to go camp and hike in the woods,” as Rogers described it–and two weeks before his death, accompanied them to Nova Scotia.
One winter, Sean was tasked with removing a homeless person sleeping on a steam grate for warmth. “It bothered him that there were so many homeless in Cambridge. Most of them are mentally ill or alcoholics. That was part of the job he didn’t really like,” Rogers said, reluctant to continue the story with Sean’s former boss in the room.
He could see the man was soaking wet and would freeze the moment he left the grate. He spotted an open door on a building down the street and told him to stay in the basement until 9 a.m., then get out. Rogers was confident the man’s life was saved thanks to Sean.
But just as quickly as the prosecution conjured rosy recollections of weddings and family vacations—including one snapshot of the Collier boys smoking cigars in a candy apple red hot-rod at the Señor Frog’s in Cozumel, Mexico—it shifted focus to the grim reality in which the Rogers-Collier family now lives.
“Everybody’s sort of been affected. My wife is probably the worst,” Rogers said. “She’s been diagnosed with PTSD. She keeps remembering that night and what he looked like.”
The night of April 18, 2013, Rogers and his wife, Kelley, received a call that Sean had been shot and transported to Mass General. Cops had swarmed the hospital, as the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers gripped the grieving city.
“It was rather devastating. Sometimes it still feels like it’s a dream,” Rogers said. “They took us to see Sean. The jury has seen pictures of Sean with a hole in his head. He was shot to pieces. My wife is touching him and the blood is coming up on her hands.” The other four children watched. Sean’s fellow officers wept.
Andrew was not present. He was in North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, waiting for the first available flight to Boston. There, he works as a machinist for Hendrick Motorsports, a NASCAR team, after his and Sean’s shared love of racing 1:24-scale slot cars grew into a full-blown career.
“It’s still a huge loss. It’s something that will affect me and my family the rest of our lives,” Andrew said. “There’s always a cloud over whatever event it is, whether it’s a holiday or vacation.”
Kelley Rogers, once a site operator for Harvard Vanguard supervising as many as 130 people, didn’t get out of bed for months. She tried returning to work a few times, to no avail. She spent the two-year anniversary of her son’s death in her home, crying.
“She’s very scared of anything that may happen to anything of the other children,” Joe Rogers said. “She had another baby that lived for a day or two. Then that baby died. She told me once that if that baby had not died, she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant [again] so soon, and that baby was Sean. Sean was a little special, because Sean brought her out of the depression of losing that daughter.”
The eighth and final photograph the prosecution showed the jury during Rogers’ testimony was that of Sean Collier in the driver’s seat of his MIT police cruiser. A little boy, not unlike a younger Collier, approached the cruiser and asked for a ride. Collier welcomed the boy inside and placed his policeman’s cap on the kid’s head.
It was there, in the driver’s seat of an MIT police cruiser, where Collier’s life eventually came to an abrupt end.