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WBUR Oral History Project: Sergeant Clarence Henniger

Sergeant Clarence Henniger

Interviewed by: Jayne Guberman

Date: March 25, 2014

Location: Randolph, MA

Recorder: Joanne DeCaro

Photo: Sergeant Clarence Henniger and Oral Historian Jayne Guberman (Photo by Joanne DeCaro)

 

 

Summary 

Clarence Henniger, a sergeant on the MIT Police force, was born in Honduras and came to the United States, where he lived in Boston, as an eight-year old.  Beginning in middle school, he attended public schools in Sharon, Massachusetts as part of the newly established METCO program, which brought minority students to schools in surrounding suburban communities.  Following two years in college, he was accepted by the MIT Police as part of a recruiting program for minorities in the 1970s.  Over the past thirty-nine years, he has served there continuously, rising to the rank of sergeant.

In his interview, Clarence describes the changes that have taken place over the past four decades as campus police work has shifted largely from providing night escorts and patrols to dealing with robberies, suicides, and other typical police issues, particularly on an urban campus such as MIT’s.

During Boston Marathons in the past, MIT police participated by maintaining and patrolling the university’s property in the Kenmore Square area of Boston.  This past year, Clarence was preparing to start his 3:00pm shift when he first heard that an incident had occurred at the finish line.  In the immediate aftermath, he and others helped locate MIT students and staff who had been in the area.  Over the next several days, the MIT police were not involved directly in the search for the bombers, and campus life was not significantly impacted.

Clarence describes the mood on campus in the early evening of Thursday, April 18th, and his interactions with Sean Collier over the course of several hours.   Sean was a member of his squad, a young officer he worked with five days a week and who felt like family to him.  In Clarence’s view, Sean was a “great police officer” who enjoyed helping people and every aspect of police work.  A young man himself, Sean became closely involved with the MIT EMTs, a group of about sixty volunteer student ambulance drivers on campus.

Clarence relates how he discovered a severely injured and dying Sean, slumped over in his police cruiser shortly after 10:00pm.   Although he had just seen Sean minutes before as he was returning to the office, he went back to look for him after a dispatcher tried unsuccessfully to reach him following reports of loud banging noises in the area where Sean was patrolling.  He immediately called for help:  “Officer down!  Get me medical! Get me back-up!  Officer down!”  Clarence goes on to describe the harrowing period that followed as he and others attempted to resuscitate Sean, who was then taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital.  As Clarence worked to secure the crime scene, state and Cambridge police, as well as members of the press, all converged on the scene within ten minutes of his call for help.  Returning to the police station, he spent the rest of the night being interviewed by various law enforcement agencies.  During this period, he along with others at the station, learned about the shoot out in Watertown.  Later, heading home about 5:45 am, he saw the entire HOV lane of the Mass Pike filled with police officers from departments across the states responding to the call for reinforcements. 

Clarence describes the massive police presence on the MIT campus that night, and the alerts sent urging everyone to remain in their dorms because of an emergency on campus.  In the days and weeks that followed, the police department provided trauma support and on-going counseling, especially to the six officers who discovered Sean Collier.

Clarence discusses the many MIT tributes and memorials to Sean Collier, beginning in the immediate aftermath and continuing through the first anniversary of his death.   Most impressive was the memorial held on Brigg’s Field on April 24th, attended by 10,000 police officers from all over the world, as well as dignitaries, politicians, and thousands of members of the MIT community.  He also describes the Sean Collier Fund, which will provide scholarships for incoming police officers, the MIT Strong Team, which will run the 2014 marathon in memory of Sean, and the dedication of a permanent space on campus in Sean’s memory. 

Clarence’s interview concludes with his reflections on the myriad ways that Sean Collier’s life, death, and legacy have had an impact on the ways police work on campus; on the strengthened bonds among members of the department, as well as with faculty and students; on the stronger personal relationships that have developed with student volunteers for the MIT EMT ambulance drivers; and on his personal life and worldview.   Looking back over a wrenching and emotional year, Clarence related with pride that Sean Collier’s life and legacy will be honored this year, when 20,000 officers and survivors will gather in Washington, DC for the dedication of his name on the Fallen Police Officers memorial wall at a Candlelight Vigil during Police Week    in May 2014.  

Audio Clip 1

Sergeant Henniger describes his relationship with Officer Sean Collier, who was in his squad.

Audio Clip 2

Sergeant Henniger describes finding Officer Collier on the evening of April 18th.

Audio Clip 3

Sergeant Henniger describes how he shared the news with his wife and family, and how MIT helped the community heal through the tragedy.

Full Interview

 

Related Links

"A Year Later, MIT Officer And Cambridge Coach Recall Marathon Tragedy’s Impact On Their City" (WBUR; April 18, 2014)

"Police Veteran, recruited by Nobelist, wins promotion" (MIT News; July 17, 2002) 

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