By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - More than 1,600 people gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday for a memorial service for a popular campus police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
MIT police officer Sean Collier, 27, was shot multiple times in his car in an apparent confrontation with the bombing suspects days after the blast, which left three people dead and more than 260 injured when two homemade bombs exploded near the race's finish line. Collier was killed in an unsuccessful attempt to steal his gun, authorities said.
Police officers, government officials, students and faculty joined members of Collier's family at the outdoor service under a tent a short distance from where Collier was killed, a place marked by a temporary memorial planted with flowers.
"He was truly one of us," Israel Ruiz, MIT executive vice president and treasurer, told reporters before the ceremony.
"Sean really did die for us, and we loved him for that. We will never forget him, we will never forget his bravery," he said.
Ruiz unveiled plans for a permanent memorial modeled after an open hand, with five radial walls, expected to be completed next year. Cambridge Mayor David Maher said during the service that a nearby street corner would be named "Sean Collier Square."
Sally Miller, an MIT sophomore who described Collier as "super curious and adventurous," helped design the memorial.
"We tried to find something that would really demonstrate his spirit and something that would show strength," she said.
Miller will be among 39 runners from MIT who plan to participate in this year's marathon in Collier's honor, wearing his badge number - 179 - on their backs during next week's race.
Other students said Collier had been a member of the school's outing club and had joined them on hikes and training runs up and down the stairs of a campus building.
As the service began, police filed into the tent to a standing ovation. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats from Massachusetts, spoke of the city's resolve in the face of the bombing and Collier's sense of humor and view of police work as a calling.
Collier was killed about five hours after the FBI released pictures of the two suspects - two ethnic Chechen brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, accused of carrying their bombs to the finish line in backpacks - and asked for the public's help in tracking them down.
The two then carjacked a vehicle and later engaged in a gunbattle with police in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother escaped, police said.
After a manhunt that shut down the greater Boston area and involved helicopters and armored vehicles, Dzhokhar was caught in the Boston suburb of Watertown, wounded and hiding in a boat.
The surviving brother, now 20, is awaiting trial and faces the death penalty if convicted.
This year's Boston Marathon will take place on Monday under heightened security. Some 36,000 runners and tens of thousands of expected spectators will face new restrictions, including bans on carrying backpacks into the race corridor.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Oatis)