photo courtesy of Sally Miller - "This is Sean hiking Gros Morne Mtn, Gros Morne NP Newfoundland"
Sean Collier, an MIT police officer and MIT Outing Club member, died last night. He did one of the bravest and most heroic things any human being can do for another - Sean risked his life in the call of duty and was killed on MIT's campus. He gave his life for us, and we will always remember him for that.
Sean's involvement with the Club started during Winter School, where he learned the basics of mountaineering. He mastered the ins and outs of winter hiking extraordinarily quickly, and was successful in the final Winter School challenge: a mid-winter climb of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast.
Sean's excitement about the outdoors was contagious. He could keep an entire carload of hikers entertained on the long drive to distant trailheads, and was always willing to share his favorite hiking snack: pepperoni, or "roni" as he called it. He could find the bright side of any situation, be it bad weather, turning back just before the summit, or a fender-bender on the way to the mountains. His grin was irrepressible, his trip descriptions irresistible:
"A few of us are doing a trip up to Franconia Ridge on Sunday. Coincidentally, Sunday will be the 23rd anniversary of the first winter ascent of Mt. Everest by the Polish mountaineer Krzystof Wielicki (ya I wikipedia'd February 17th to find ideas, what of it). We might not be climbing Mt. Everest but Franconia is also pretty awesome so feel free to bring any Polish dishes, wear Poland's colors (red and white), bring a Polish flag (because you know you have one laying around your apartment), or just actually be from Poland (cool!) to commemorate this awesome feat."
photo courtesy of Lara Thompson - "This is from the first weekend of winter school. On Canon Mountain."
Sean's passion for outdoor activities blossomed with plans for bigger mountains and grander adventures, and dreams of Katahdin, Rainier, Denali.... He traveled to Newfoundland, Canada, to hike the island's rugged peaks with a group of Club members during MIT's spring break.
Sean was a student in a recent MITOC glacier travel class to prepare for a trip to the icy peaks of the Pacific Northwest. He became a regular at weekly aerobic exercise sessions in the Green Building stairwell---sometimes in uniform if he happened to be on duty.
Sean's friendship and generosity towards students was as evident at MITOC as it was in his work on campus. We recall him bringing earplugs for an entire cabinful of people, going out of his way to give people rides, offering help for bike or any other problems. He made a point of getting to know students, asking them about details of their lives, enthusiastically sharing his own experiences. He brightened the lives of all of us, and words cannot describe the loss we feel.
photo courtesy of Matthew Gilbertson - "Here are some photos of Sean on the Mt Washington trip in winter school"
Our thoughts and prayers are with Sean's friends and family.
- MIT Outing Club
Memories from some MITOC members:
I remember meeting Sean last March when I was sitting in the student center with a friend of mine waiting to go on a trip. We had huge backpacks laden with stuff ready to go camping, and up walks Sean. He was on duty so he was wearing his police uniform. He came up to us and asked us about our upcoming adventure and mentioned that he was interested in getting into hiking. Of course, in true MITOC fashion, we took this opportunity to tell Sean about the outing club at MIT, and he immediately took to it. He went on a few trips with the outing club and this past January shifted his days off so that he would have every weekend to go on trips with the Outing Club to the White Mountains. He truly fell in love with the mountains - I could see it from that first day when he talked about getting more into hiking. He had the bug.
When he found out about Winter School, MITOC's January activity to learn about hiking in winter environments, he would shift around and trade his vacation days so that he could go out every weekend. I don't think there was a weekend where he missed a single hike - good weather, bad weather, windy weather, he was there. He would bring this youthful enthusiasm on a hike that would just get your spirits up instantly. Once on the summit of Mt. Madison, it felt easily like 20 below zero, and Sean would just keep hiking along telling jokes, asking questions, and caring about the people he was hiking with.
Sean's favorite winter hiking food was pepperoni - it has so much fat in it that it doesn't freeze in below-zero temperatures. He would always bring an entire pack that you buy at Shaw's for a day hike (definitely too much food), but was always willing to share. He loved comparing different kinds of "roni" as he would call it, and of course jokingly claim that his was the best. Seeing Sean excited about the deliciousness of his pepperoni will definitely make you smile when it's so cold you can't feel your toes =).
During one hike, we tried to make it "retro MITOC themed", including yodeling. Sean claimed he wasn't much of a singer, but was one of the first to try his hand at the illusive art of yodeling. Hearing his deep voice crack over those yodels definitely made that hike (we didn't reach the top) one of the more fun hikes I've been on. He was eager to strut his plaid flannel, yodel off the sides of a mountain, enjoy eating his chocolate and roni, and be happy and cheerful even with our exceedingly slow pace.
Sean was always willing to lend a hand when needed (and even when not). I was mentioning bike troubles offhandedly to him, and he was always willing to offer suggestions and go out of his way to help - "can I take you to a bike store?" "you can get new tires here at this place" "I know someone who fixes bikes for a living - I can put you in touch", etc. I have never met a person so eager to help, so eager to be a friend, as Sean.
Sean would occasionally be stationed next to Baker in his cruiser. I live in Burton-Conner, so on my way to campus every morning I pass by that spot that he would sometimes sit. If he knew I had an early class or lab that day, he would text and ask if I was walking by that morning. The mornings he was there, he would always ask about my day, my problem sets, and my life, sharing tidbits about his shifts, the new book he was reading, the new programming concept he was learning about. It made me smile to know that for a few minutes every morning, I got to talk to one of the most easy-going, friendly people I have ever known. The fact that he was a campus police officer who's job it was to protect my campus made me feel even more comforted in the fact that our police force had such quality individuals. He wanted to get to know students - he wanted to understand us. And he did it; he knew which students he was protecting every day when he came to work. He wanted motivation to come to work every day. By getting to know students, by talking to us, by sharing memories with us, by hiking with us, by dancing with us, by listening to music with us, he knew his community. He loved us, and we loved him.
Sean will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him. They will miss his laugh, his smile, his goofy grin, and most of all, the fact that he genuinely cared about everyone he interacted with. He gave his life with full faith that he was protecting those he loved - he made sure of that.
Michele - MIT Class of 2013
photo courtesy of Nathan Ickes - "Here's Sean on Welch-Dickey, January 13 of this year."
I first met Sean in the MIT student center over a year ago, on my way to Logan to fly out west for a backpacking trip. I was holed up in the MIT student center with a pile of camping gear when he came up and introduced himself, and asked what all the stuff was for. He pulled over a chair, and we sat and talked for a while - about the trip, about the MIT Outing Club, about hiking, and on and on. Sean was excited about the trip, and wanted to learn more about the Outing Club - just as he wanted to get involved in countless other student organizations across campus. He loved the MIT community, and loved getting to know students and becoming a part of the MIT culture.
In the year since then, many of us have come to know and love Sean. He was good at making lasting connections, not just at striking up conversations, and we became close friends. I ran into him regularly on campus, and stopped by often to chat through the window of his police cruiser, or on his patrols. Sean cared a lot about his job, and he cared intensely about people; he worked long hours, but always made time to stop and chat. He was incredibly easy-going and friendly, and we'd talk regularly - about life and the world, or just being silly.
Sean wanted to - and did - try everything. Like he did with many things, he jumped full-swing into the Outing Club. He joined MITOC's Winter School in January, began learning winter hiking and camping skills, and immediately loved it. He traded shifts and worked longer hours to make the time for weekend trips to New Hampshire, and we went to EMS to buy him a full set of his own outdoor gear. Whatever the weather in the mountains, Sean was always smiling, excited for the adventure, and ready to keep hiking. When we did a day hike in plaid flannel to yodel off of a mountain, Sean was the most enthusiastic yodeler of all of us. On a winter overnight to build snow shelters and camp in the backcountry, Sean was always cheerful, and always willing to be fun and silly - a wonderful friend to be around.
Sean used to stop by the student center while on shift, and often came by the MIT Lindy Hop dance in uniform. At first, some of the dancers were nervous at the "police presence" in the room, but Sean made friends quickly and stood by the door to hang out and chat. In the spirit of trying new things, he even started taking swing dancing lessons in his time off, so he could participate in future dances "without being embarassed," as he said.
Most of all, Sean was an incredibly fun person to be with, and one of the most generous people I know. He was always offering to help with things: offering to bring something if I was sick, or giving a ride in his beloved pickup truck if it was raining - he once drove me an hour and a half out of his way in New Hampshire to drop me off safely on the other side of the mountains. He was easy to laugh with, and quick to offer a hug. I'll miss stopping by his police cruiser on campus or after he gets off duty, and I'll miss having a great friend to talk with and to enjoy adventures and laughs. Sean: I miss you so, so much already, and I know we're all grateful and proud of everything you've done for us. Thinking of you, with much love.
- Maddie - MIT Class of 2011
photo courtesy of Matthew Gilbertson - "Here are some photos of Sean on the Mt Washington trip in winter school"
I climbed with Sean to the summit of Mt Washington (New Hampshire) in early February and was amazed with his enthusiasm. Sean participated as a student in the MIT Outing Club (MITOC) Winter School program, a program that teaches winter hiking skills. In just a few short weeks of Winter School, Sean had mastered the art of winter hiking and had dreams to climb even more challenging mountains. Katahdin and Rainier in the short term, Mt McKinley and other big mountains down the road. Sean was a fantastic student, eager to learn, quick to master skills, and helpful to others.
The thing that impressed me about Sean was how enthusiastically he took the plunge into winter hiking, how quickly he mastered it, and how rapidly he made friends. Sean’s first big winter hike was in January, and just a few weeks later, he was already climbing Mount Washington – in winter, one of the toughest outdoor feats in the eastern USA.
Another thing that amazed me about Sean was his dedication. Sean regularly climbed the stairs at the Green Building every Wednesday evening with other MITOC’ers to train for mountaineering. Sometimes, when he was on duty, he’d even climb in his uniform. Once (and maybe I shouldn’t say this), he even let some of us onto the roof of the Green Building to reward us for a good workout. Sean was well-respected, friendly, and down-to-earth.
Sean was a MITOC all-star. In my nine years with MITOC, I have never seen a star rise as fast as Sean’s.
- Matthew - MIT Class of 2008, MIT MS 2010, MIT PhD 2015
Memories, pictures, thoughts, and condolences can be shared at: http://seancolliermemories.tumblr.com/