By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURY — A sea of police blue filled a large portion of Briggs Field on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge yesterday to honor fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier, killed last Thursday by the two men believed to be behind the Boston Marathon bombings.
Among those in attendance were four members of the Newburyport Police Department’s Honor Guard who joined between an estimated 150 and 200 honor guards from police departments across the country and Canada. In all, more than 10,000 people attended yesterday’s ceremony.
Newburyport police Inspector Matthew Simons, along with Sgt. Howard Adams, Christopher McDonald and Michael Wilichoski, left their Green Street station at 8 a.m. yesterday and drove to the Shriners Auditorium in Wilimington to meet up with police officers north of Boston and travel into MIT together.
Officers from Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury and other Greater Newburyport departments were among those who attended yesterday’s ceremony for the 27-year-old graduate of Salem State College.
The roughly 75-minute ceremony featured intense security, an emotional speech by Collier’s brother, Rob Rogers, and an appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. Thousands of friends, family, MIT students and others also were in attendance. Unlike Tuesday’s dismal weather featuring steady rain and temperatures in the 40s, skies yesterday were blue and temperatures climbed to the mid-60s.
Simons said Newburyport’s Honor Guard, along with the other honor guards, presented the nation’s colors during the national anthem and the playing of Taps, sitting in a section reserved just for them.
“As you can imagine it was a somewhat somber atmosphere, but the camaraderie was tangible. It’s much like losing a family member to many officers,” Simons said.
Sadly, Simons said he has attended a handful of ceremonies honoring police officers killed in the line of duty. But yesterday’s ceremony stood out due to events surrounding Collier’s death.
“Because of it being connected to a terrorist event, the magnitude of this was the largest of my career,” Simons said.
Collier was killed Thursday night when alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, ambushed him while he was patrolling the MIT campus. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed hours later during a prolonged gun battle with police officers on the streets of Watertown. His brother was captured Friday evening after a roughly 20-hour manhunt.
The Newburyport Police Honor Guard has been featured many times in the past at municipal events and has flown the American flag inside the Boston Garden before a Celtics basketball game and at Fenway Park. For yesterday’s service, honor guards across the nation were invited to participate. Simons said he saw an honor guard from Florida and was told that a police contingent from Ireland was also in attendance.