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Salem State remembers an alumnus in law enforcement allegedly cut down by terror

Posted by Tom Coakley  April 19, 2013 04:31 PM

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The flag flew at half-staff at Salem State University's police station . Chief Gene Labonte said the force will send an honor guard to the funeral of Sean Collier , a 2009, alumnus and an officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shot to death on Thursday nightin an encounter with suspected Boston marathon bombers, brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Sadness fell over Salem State University on Friday, as word spread of the death of Sean Collier, an alumnus and a campus police officer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was allegedly shot to death in an encounter with the two suspected Boston Marathon bombers.

Collier, 26, graduated in 2009 with a degree in criminal justice, with high honors, said Kristen Kuehnle, the department chairwoman.

"He was very smart, caring and understanding," said Kuehnle, who remembered Collier from a course she teaches on Women in Criminal Justice. "He was everything you would want in a police officer . . . He had a broad appreciation for the criminal justice system."

Collier, who lived in Somerville, was shot to death on Thursday night, allegedly by suspected marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who then fled and touched off a massive manhunt that shut down Boston, Cambridge, Watertown and other MetroWest suburbs.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was later shot by police. Dzhokhar, 19, and reportedly a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, remained at large on Friday.

Collier's murder at the hands of young terrorists shocked Salem State criminal justice major Brian Pacheco..

"I felt really bad when I found out he had gone to our school," he said. "It really hits home."

Pacheco, a 19-year-old freshman from Stoneham, learned of Collier's death while watching CNN, but didn't realize he was a Salem State alumnus until he arrived on campus, he said.

Collier had recently contacted one of his former professors for a letter of recommendation for the criminal justice master's degree program at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Kuehnle said.

"He always wanted to be a police officer, and wanted the best preparation possible," she said, noting some faculty were too distraught to speak to the media. "He always participated in class, asked a lot of questions. He had very good writing skills."

Christine Gillette, a spokeswoman for the University of Massachusetts Lowell, confirmed Collier had started the application process in in 2012, but said he had not completed it.

At Salem State, Collier was a friendly, familiar face to faculty and students, Kuehnle said.

"People liked him a lot," she said. "It's sad to think this is how his life ended."

Students said Collier's death brought the horror of terrorism closer to home.

"Everything going on has been so confusing, and now its reached here," said Michael Bernard 22, of Lynn, a junior majoring in accounting."It's very disturbing, and to think someone from our same school was a victim."

Bernard noted the campus seemed unusually quiet for a warm Friday afternoon.

"I think there is a lot of sorrow here," he said.

English majors Bryanna Favor and Brittany Burns wore a Boston Bruins and Red Sox t-shirts on Friday, as a tribute to the marathon bombing victims. The pair were stunned to find out a Salem State grad was the bombers' latest alleged casualty.

"It's what everyone is talking about," said Favor, 20, of Groveland. "It makes you realize how close the world is."

"It's so sad," added Burns, 19, from Haverhill, who wore Bruins Tyler Seguin's shirt. "There weren't a lot of classes today."

Karen Cady, a Salem State spokeswoman, said many classes were cancelled Friday, because students who rely on public transportation were unable to get to the college. Faculty who live in Boston and western suburbs locked down for the manhunt also couldn't reach campus, she said.

"We never have these many parking spaces available," she said, nodding toward a parking lot on central campus. "A lot of people just couldn't get here."

Cady said the university is still trying to decide how to honor Collier, whose picture was posted on the university's webpage Friday.

Like all others, the American flag outside Salem State's campus police station flew at half-staff, as ordered by President Obama earlier this week.

Chief of Police Gene Labonte said the force was saddened to learn of the death of an alumnus and a brother campus police officer, in the line of duty.

"He's in our thoughts," said Labonte, a former Connecticut state trooper, appointed Salem State's chief last year.

Labonte said the department would like to send an honor guard to Collier's funeral.

"He's a brother officer and a graduate of this university," Labonte said, standing in the lobby of the police station. "Whenever his funeral is held ,we will be there to honor him."

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