October 25, 2013

Classmate: Accused Mass. teacher slayer stayed after school

Authorities have not said whether Colleen Ritzer had any previous run-ins with Philip Chism, the student who is charged with murder.

By Jay Lindsay
The Associated Press

DANVERS, Mass. — As few details emerged about the killing of a Massachusetts teacher allegedly by one of her students, classmates struggled to make sense of their loss — and understand why it happened.

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Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer is shown in this undated photo provided by her family.

The Associated Press / Courtesy of Dale Webster via the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune

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Philip Chism, 14, stands during his arraignment for the death of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer in Salem District Court in Salem, Mass., on Wednesday. Chism has been ordered held without bail.

The Associated Press

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Classes were expected to resume Friday at Danvers High School, two days after Philip Chism, 14, was charged with murder in the death of Colleen Ritzer, a popular 24-year-old math teacher.

The school remained closed on Thursday, but grief counselors met with some students.

Police and school officials told about 800 parents at a meeting Thursday night there would be extra safety measures to reassure returning students, including locked side doors, and more police and counselors on hand.

Rabih Chaghouri, whose daughter is a freshman, said he's confident the school is safe. "This could happen in any neighborhood, any street, anywhere. You never know what goes on in people's heads."

A student who sat two seats away from Chism in Ritzer's Algebra I class on the final class of the school day Tuesday said Chism was drawing in a notebook rather than taking notes and Ritzer noticed it.

"She came over and said, 'I didn't know you draw,' and he said, 'yes,' then later on, she said, 'Can you stay after with me?'" Rania Rhaddaoui said. "Obviously, he stayed after because when I was leaving, he was still at his desk."

Rhaddaoui said Ritzer had scheduled a test for Friday, but she was unsure why exactly Ritzer asked Chism to stay after school.

Ritzer never returned home that day. Blood in a second-floor bathroom helped lead investigators to her body, which was dumped in the woods behind the school in a close-knit community about 20 miles north of Boston.

Chism was picked up by police in the early morning hours Wednesday, walking along Route 1 in neighboring Topsfield. His attorney declined to comment outside court Wednesday and did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Authorities offered no clues Thursday on Chism's alleged motive. They also would not say how Ritzer was killed.

Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said the case was still being investigated.

Kaitlyn Nash, 16, went to the school Thursday to be with her friends. She said students who knew and loved Ritzer were still trying to make sense of the slaying. She said she found it particularly frightening that she had theater rehearsal Tuesday afternoon and was at the school when authorities believe Ritzer was killed.

"It's just terrifying," she said. "I know a lot of people don't want to go back to school at this point. I know we have to, and we just need to get on with (it)."

Chism 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.

Jean McCartin, a Danvers School Committee member, said the school has extensive programs to help ease the transition for new students who may have problems but there was no information about Chism that would have presented any red flags.

"He just presented himself to us like any other student would," she said Thursday. "And that's what I think is so hard for the administration right now. You know, their hearts are breaking because they just didn't know he was in need, if he was in need. ... No one knows why he would have behaved in this way and done such a terrible thing."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Parents and Danvers High School students hold candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School, on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013, in Danvers, Mass. Ritzer’s body was found in woods behind the school, and Danvers High School student Philip Chism, 14, who was found walking along a state highway overnight, was charged with killing her.

AP Photo/ Bizuayehu Tesfaye

click image to enlarge

Danvers High School students hold a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at the school, on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013, in Danvers, Mass. Ritzer’s body was found in woods behind the school, and Danvers High School student Philip Chism, 14, who was found walking along a state highway overnight, was charged with killing her.

AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye

click image to enlarge

Candles and teddy bears are placed at Danvers High School prior to a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013, in Danvers, Mass. Ritzer was found slain in woods behind the high school, and Danvers High School student Philip Chism, 14, who was found walking along a state highway overnight was charged with killing her.

AP Photo/ Bizuayehu Tesfaye



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