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Soft-spoken teen accused of killing Massachusetts teacher

By Jay Lindsay

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:30 a.m. HST, Oct 23, 2013

DANVERS, Mass. » A well-liked teacher was found beaten to death in woods behind this quiet Massachusetts town's high school, and a 14-year-old boy who was found walking along a state highway overnight was charged with killing her.

Blood found in a second-floor school bathroom helped lead investigators to the body of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School who was reported missing when she didn't come home from work on Tuesday, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said.

"She was a very, very respected, loved teacher," Blodgett said.

The suspect, Philip Chism, was arraigned on a murder charge today and ordered held without bail. The teenager, described by classmates as soft-spoken and pleasant, also did not come home from school the day before and was spotted walking along Route 1 in the neighboring town of Topsfield at about 12:30 a.m. today.

Prosecutors said in court that Chism beat Ritzer to death.

A court filing said Ritzer and Chism were known to each other from the high school, but it did not elaborate. The arrest was made based on statements by the suspect and corroborating evidence at multiple scenes, investigators said in court documents.

Ritzer's family said they are mourning the death of their "amazing, beautiful daughter and sister."

"Everyone that knew and loved Colleen knew of her passion for teaching and how she mentored each and every one of her students," the family said in a statement provided by her uncle Dale Webster.

At his arraignment in adult court in Salem, Chism's defense attorney argued for the proceeding to be closed and her client to be allowed to stay hidden because of his age. The judge denied the request. The lawyer, Denise Regan, declined to comment outside court.

The tall, lanky teenager had moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee before the start of the school year and was a top scorer on the school's junior varsity soccer team, said Kyle Cahill, a junior who also plays soccer. He said the team had been wondering where Chism was when he skipped a team dinner Tuesday night.

"We're all just a family. It just amazes me really," Cahill said. "He wasn't violent at all. He was really the opposite of aggressive."

Ritzer had a Twitter account where she gave homework assignments, encouraged students and described herself as a "math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching."

She was a 2011 graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, a school spokeswoman said today. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in math, a minor in psychology and a secondary education concentration, according to the college's 2011 commencement program.

One of her former students, Chris Weimert, 17, said she was a warm, welcoming person who would stand outside her classroom and say hello to students she didn't teach. He said she had been at the school for two years.

"She was the nicest teacher anyone could ever have. She always had a warm smile on her face," he said.

Ryan Kelleher, a senior, said students related to the young teacher, who liked to wear jeans and UGG boots just like the teenagers she taught. Kelleher, who also plays soccer, said the arrest of the soft-spoken Chism didn't make sense to him.

"From what I know about him and seeing him every day, it just doesn't add up that he would do such a thing, unless this was all an act to fool somebody," the 17-year-old said.

Ritzer lived at home with her 20-year-old brother and her sister, a high school senior. The close-knit family was often outside, barbecuing, spending time together and enjoying each other's company, neighbors said.

Mary Duffy has lived next door to the Ritzers in the suburban neighborhood in Andover since the family moved there more than two decades ago. She had known Colleen Ritzer from the time she was a baby and said the Ritzers' oldest child had just one life ambition: to be a high school math teacher.

"All I ever heard is that she loved her job," Duffy said.

All public schools in Danvers, about 20 miles north of Boston, were closed today.

The high school's students were planning a candlelight vigil this evening.

Ritzer is the second teacher allegedly killed by a student in the U.S. this week. A Sparks, Nev., middle school teacher was allegedly shot by a 12-year-old student on Monday.

Associated Press writer Lynne Tuohy in Andover and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.

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mokebla wrote:
If their old enough to kill, the public should know the name and what the killer looks like.
on October 23,2013 | 04:28AM
justchecking wrote:
on October 23,2013 | 05:13AM
Ronin006 wrote:
I wonder why the story fails to mention the weapon used to kill the teacher. It apparently was not a firearm. After all, we do not want readers to know there are other weapons besides guns, do we?
on October 23,2013 | 08:13AM
copperwire9 wrote:
According to www.newberryportnews.com, "Court documents released after the hearing offer few new details, and do not confirm exactly how Ritzer was killed." So perhaps you should take your concern up with the court in question.
on October 23,2013 | 09:49AM
KahinuG wrote:
yes, it is entirely possible to be beaten to death with a 2x4. your 'after all' comment is pathetic... does it help you snuggle up with your 2nd amendment at night?
on October 23,2013 | 01:03PM
Ronin006 wrote:
You apparently missed my point. Every time a firearm is used to kill or injury someone on a school campus or in a government facility, liberals are quick to blame right-wingers for their pro-gun stance and they see as the answer more gun control laws or an overturning of the 2nd Amendment, but it is “Oh hum” if other weapons are used. And in case you have not yet heard, the teacher was killed with a knife, so I suppose we will not be seeing much more about this case in the local news media.
on October 23,2013 | 01:28PM
KahinuG wrote:
no, i missed nothing. isn't it possible that the story mostly concentrated on what kind of person colleen ritzer was as opposed to specific details about what she was 'beaten to death' with because they had no specific information about that? your knee jerk comment came out before any anti-gun stance was ever associated with this tragic incident, yet you chose to jump on it by insinuating 'we do not want readers to know'... as if the specifics on how she was murdered was omitted intentionally. you stuck your dick in a foul hole, live with it and sleep tight with your 2nd amendment.
on October 23,2013 | 06:27PM
Grimbold wrote:
The fact that he was Black and she white has been suppressed by the mainstream media, just so we can not make up our mind about race and crime.
on October 23,2013 | 08:27AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
I see where your head is at. Keep it in the garbage pale.
on October 23,2013 | 10:10AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
And while your head is in the pail you can think about all the human beings who have been wronged by people like Hitler and other racists.
on October 23,2013 | 10:12AM
kailua000 wrote:
who knows what the reason is, but if he were white and she were black, the NAACP, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson would be speaking out and very loudly. You can't deny that.
on October 23,2013 | 11:57AM
Slow wrote:
He is not black. Looks kind of mocha. Still, any non-white should be roasted in Doktor Grimbold's Oven of Racial Purity. Snap, crackle pop, now they are gone and the master race prevails. WHITE POWER!
on October 23,2013 | 11:09AM
saveparadise wrote:
What is causing our children to commit murder and atrocious crimes? Look at the mentality in these blogs. A teacher is murdered and has a grieving family and all you can post is political agenda. Wassup people?
on October 23,2013 | 11:46AM
kailua000 wrote:
because that is all our country has been about for the past several years. blame blame blame and more blame.
on October 23,2013 | 11:58AM
paradiddle wrote:
A tragic story. I am going out on a limb here. Based on pure speculation, I have a suspicion that he had a crush on the young teacher and became angry/humiliated when she refuse his advances and/or threated to report what had happened.. Prosecutors said in court that Chism beat Ritzer to death.
on October 23,2013 | 12:12PM
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