More than 1,000 residents, friends and law enforcement personnel from throughout Eastern Massachusetts packed the Wilmington Town Common for a candlelight vigil Saturday night to bid farewell and say thank you to a hometown hero.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier, a 2004 graduate of Wilmington High School, was allegedly by brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the same men investigators believe are responsible for the fatal bombing attack at Monday's Boston Marathon.
Before the start of Saturday's vigil, a hearse carrying Collier's body drove down Church Street, shut down to traffic during the ceremony. The road was lined with police officers at attention on one side and residents cheering and waving American flags on the other.
Family members, colleagues, friends and town officials shared their grief during the vigil. But the grief didn't manifest as tears but rather in a steely resolve to continue the legacy Collier established during his short life and to ensure that his death would not be forgotten.
MIT Campus Police Chief John DiFava, himself a Wilmington resident, described a young man who was on his way to living out a dream he'd had for many years.
"You have those few (cops) who were born to be police officers and Sean was one of those few," said DiFava. "Not only that but he was one of the few ... to display its finest qualities. In the 16 months he was with us, he left a legacy that no one will soon forget. He left us with an understanding of what it means to be an ideal police officer."
But DiFava said Collier's humanity ran much deeper than his work as a police officer. The chief said he had received a email from Collier three weeks earlier, asking for permisson to serve on the board of directors at a local homeless shelter.
"Those people in the street. The people we cross the street to avoid. Those are the people he wanted to help," said DiFava.
Collier was in his final days with MIT at the time of his death. On June 3, he was scheduled to be sworn in as a full-time police officer with the Somerville Police Department, fulfilling a dream, according to Somerville Deputy Chief Michael Cabral.
Collier's death has struck Cabral particularly hard. During his remarks at the vigil, he described Collier interning for the SPD and how he helped get Collier a seat in the Police Academy -- a seat Collier paid for himself.
"Everything he did in his life, he did toward becoming a police officer," said Cabral.
Cabral admitted to being devastated by Collier's death, describing him as a "second son."
"Other than my father dying, this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life," said Cabral.
Collier's father, step-father and siblings appeared at the vigil. His step-father said Sean's mother was still "too crushed" by her son's death to attend the event.
Sean's brother Andrew said the best way to carry on Collier's legacy is to follow his example.
"Every day, do something good and do it in honor of Sean and in honor of everyone lost to terror," Andrew said. His words were echoed by Town Manager Jeff Hull, who encouraged people to do one act of kindness in Collier's name.
Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis said it spoke volumes of Wilmington, as a community, that thousands of people showed up for a vigil that had been put together in just eight hours.
"Wilmington, by this show of support, has shown itself to be the best small town in America," he said.
Details for Collier's funeral services have not yet been finalized, but if Saturday is any indication, a massive turnout can be expected.
Mike Newhouse, the chairman of Wilmington's Board of Selectmen, said that with all due respect to the phrase "Boston Strong" that emerged after the Boston Marathon bombings, Wilmington will coin a phrase of its own.
"Like all of you I'm sure have been very proud to see (Boston Strong) in the news this week," said Newhouse. "But I think that going forward you will see around Wilmington and hear around Wilmington that we are 'Collier Strong.'"