Cumberland Times-News

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October 23, 2013

Student charged in high school teacher's murder

DANVERS, Mass. — A high school math teacher in suburban Boston was murdered Tuesday night, and a 14-year-old student has been charged in her death.

Classes today were cancelled in Danvers, about 20 miles north of Boston, as police investigated the murder of Colleen Ritzer, 24, who was in her second year of teaching at Danvers High School. A portion of the school was marked off as a crime scene.

A 14-year-old student, Philip Chism, was charged with her murder in adult court Wednesday afternoon and held without bail.

Chism was the subject of a public alert by Danvers police Tuesday afternoon when he didn't return home from school. A soccer player, Chism had recently moved to Danvers from Tennessee.

Police later received a report, at 11:20 p.m., that Ritzer had not returned to her home in nearby Andover and was not answering her cell phone, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said during a press conference Wednesday.

Police went to Danvers High School and found blood in a second-floor bathroom. A search of the area turned up Ritzer's body in woods near the school.

"It is apparent she was a homicide victim," Blodgett said.

Police found Chism and took him into custody just after midnight. He was walking north in the southbound lane of a busy highway.

Police determined from talking to Chism, and watching school surveillance footage, that he had killed the teacher and disposed of her body near the school, according to documents filed in court. The report offered no details of how she was killed or of a possible motive.

Ritzer attended Andover High School, graduating in 2007. She graduated from Assumption College, in Worcester, Mass., in 2011, and she began teaching at Danvers High in September 2012.

She maintained a Twitter account at @msritzermath, where she posted homework assignments and described herself as "a math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching."

She was known for encouraging and tutoring students, as evidenced by her posts to Twitter. A week ago, she wished sophomores and juniors luck on their PSATs. In early August, she wrote, "No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind."

Ritzer was working toward a master's degree in school counseling at Salem State University, according to the college's president, Patricia Meservey, who described her as "a bright and vibrant student."

"As a dedicated teacher, Colleen wanted to work with and help children with special needs," Meservey said in a statement. "She believed children have much to offer and often do not realize how special they are as individuals."

Blodgett described Ritzer as a "very, very respected teacher" and said her murder was a "terrible tragedy."

Details for this story were reported by The Salem, Mass., News and The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.

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