ITHACA, N.Y. — Officer Colin, Ithaca’s youngest police officer at just 10 years old, died Saturday after a valiant, years-long fight against brain cancer.
Colin Hayward Toland passed away at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, a place his parents have said has become like a second home over the years.
His family wrote in a Facebook post Sunday morning, “Lieutenant Colin returned to the cosmos in the loving embrace of his family. His passing was more peaceful and gentle than we could have imagined. On his last day, he went outside and felt the sun on his face and the wind in his hair.”
For weeks now, Officer Colin’s terminal condition has worsened. He battled brain cancer and tumors on-and-off since he was about 2 years old, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called anaplastic ependymoma. He lived in remission for several years until the cancer returned in January 2015.
Officer Colin became a community symbol of hope and good will after joining the ranks of the Ithaca Police Department on Sept. 12, 2016.
Former Ithaca Police Chief John Barber met Colin at the second-annual Ithaca Police Community Barbecue that July. At the event, Colin said that it was his dream to be a police officer when he grew up.
IPD and City of Ithaca officially helped make that dream come true.
Officer Colin was formally sworn into the department, wearing a fitted uniform, by Mayor Svante Myrick in front of hundreds of regional first responders and his classmates from Northeast Elementary school. Myrick also declared Sept. 12 as Colin Hayward Toland Day.
The Ithaca community has been kept in the loop about Officer Colin and his adventures through his official Facebook Page and through his mother Tamiko Toland and father Ian Hayward’s Facebook posts.
He attended meetings and training sessions at IPD and made many public appearances with former Chief Barber, current IPD Chief Pete Tyler and other officers, who all said that the new recruit did not take his job at IPD lightly.
Officer Colin made national headlines last December after he “arrested” the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas from Center Ithaca, eventually cutting a deal with the Grinch, letting him off easy at the public arraignment after the Grinch showed remorse for his actions.
Colin was promoted to the rank of sergeant in November where officers and Myrick spoke about his dedication as a police officer. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant by the Memphis Police Department, who visited him at St. Jude earlier this month and gave him a promotion.
His father wrote about the visit, “Sergeant Colin received a surprise promotion today by the Memphis PD. He is now lieutenant and an official member of the tactical unit! We are grateful to our brothers and sisters in blue for this heartfelt gesture. We have known for a very long time that Colin’s cancer was incurable. He has endured so much with grace and joy and we are so thankful for the time we have had together as well as the opportunity he has had to live a full and purposeful life.”
His Ithaca police family was also with him during his final days. Former Chief Barber, who said working with Colin was the highlight of his career, visited Colin and his family last week. Ithaca Police Officers in full uniform surprised Colin last week when they drove to St. Jude in a squad car and spent some time with him.
Myrick said Colin’s desire to be an officer was inspirational enough, but it’s his dedication to the job that makes him stand out. For instance, when three officers were promoted last fall, Colin was invited to attend the ceremony. He wasn’t feeling well that day, and it was suggested that he stay home. But Colin refused.
“He said, ‘Duty calls,’ so he put on his uniform and he came in. That kind of spirit is why we are proud to promote you,” Myrick said at the time.
Those who kept up with Officer Colin — whether through online videos or at public appearances — were treated with the opportunity to get to know a young man who never complained about his illness and who never seemed to feel sorry for himself.
Instead, people got to know that Officer Colin was a jokester (What do you call a city full of kittens? Kittydelphia!). He enjoyed, er … sometimes he enjoyed, play fighting with his older brother, Aidan. He liked Hello Kitty, Batman and playing Minecraft. And he let the occasional profanity slip out when he got excited about something, in true 10-year-old boy fashion.
During Officer Colin’s promotion ceremony, he said he wanted to be a police officer “Because I want to help the world be a better place.”
Viewing and calling hours are happening later this week at the Lansing Funeral Home. A celebration of Officer Colin’s life will be happening in Memphis and Ithaca. Details are pending.
Additional details will be added to this story as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: All photos of Officer Colin may be used by any news organization wanting to share Colin’s story. By all means, share it far and wide.