In the hours after Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier was shot to death April 18, an army of law enforcement officers from police departments across the Commonwealth descended on Cambridge and Watertown.
On Saturday, dozens of Massachusetts police departments once again sent units to Cambridge, this time to honor the officer whose alleged fateful encounter with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sparked the manhunt that ended with the death of one Boston Marathon bombing suspect and the capture of the other.
A solemn procession of about 50 motorcycle officers from departments around the Boston region rolled slowly down Vassar Street from MIT Police headquarters to the spot where Collier was killed. Participants in the event, which raised money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty, turned off their engines and stood at attention for a moment of silence.
Collier’s sister, Jennifer Lemmerman of Melrose, said the strong show of support by the “brotherhood” of Collier’s fellow officers, most of whom never met Collier, helped bolster her grieving family.
“It’s really beautiful to see them all,” she said. “They have rallied around us . . . in a way that has meant so much.”
MIT Police Officer Karl Martinsen, a close friend and colleague of Collier’s, said he was moved by the large turnout of officers from far-flung departments.
“We’ve obviously been through a lot, and it’s always overwhelming for us to see the support of the officers and the community,” he said. “But just as important as remembering the officers is remembering the families left behind.”
Saturday’s ride from MIT to the State House was one stop on a nationwide tour by Harry Herington, a retired Texas police officer who is biking to every state capitol to raise money for his Ride4Cops charity. Massachusetts is the 24th state he has visited since starting the group in 2009.
Herington’s customized blue Harley-Davidson, painted with American flags at half staff, has become a rolling memorial to fallen officers, covered in replica badges, pins, and other momentoes given to him by families of fallen officers.
“People tell me, ‘My son would want to be on your mission,’ ” Herington said as he fired up his bike. “As a police officer, you make a promise to your comrades that you’ll take care of their family if something happens to them. I’m just keeping that promise.”
The procession of motorcycle officers and supporters rode from MIT across the Longfellow Bridge to the State House, where they attended a ceremony at the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Memorial that featured Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Coakley choked up at several points in her brief remarks, describing her worries as the wife of a now-retired Cambridge police officer and calling Collier “a selfless, giving, caring individual.”
“I’ve worked with police officers for a long time, men and women, and it’s astounding to me how brave they are when they go out to work every day,” Coakley said in an interview after the event. “In some ways, doing this today relives all of that — all the wakes and funerals and sadness that we went through with all of those victims of the Marathon bombing. It’s still very fresh for me, as it is certainly for the families and everybody in Boston.”
Herington’s journey has so far covered 28,000 miles and raised more than $350,000, his group said. Money raised from the Massachusetts stop will be donated primarily to the nonprofit Concerns of Police Survivors.
Lemmerman, Collier’s sister, called the months since his death “awful,” but said meeting other survivors of police officers killed on the job has been crucial to coping.
“Everybody knows what happened, everybody knows his story, and everybody feels a connection to it, which is great,” she said. “But it’s when you meet somebody who has lost a fellow officer that you know they know what you’re feeling.”
Collier had no illusions about the risks inherent to police work, Lemmerman said.
“He knew the danger he was in, but that was less important to him than helping his community and helping people.”