Philip Chism: Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer murdered, 14-year-old charged
Update: The Danvers community and beyond is in mourning after a young high school teacher was brutally murdered and her body dumped in the woods near the school allegedly at the hands of a student.
Philip Chism, 14, of Danvers, was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty Wednesday afternoon during his arraignment in Salem District Court.
He allegedly killed Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, sometime Tuesday night, and dumped her body in a wooded area near the school.
Danvers High School was closed on Wednesday because of the murder. People showed up to the school anyway to leave items at a makeshift memorial there, including flowers, a stuffed bear and a note that read “Rest in peace Ms. Ritzer. You will be missed. From everyone at DHS.”
Chism is due back in court on Nov. 22 for a probable cause hearing. No details were read at the hearing, however a police report claims Chism knew Ritzer, and that officials learned in an interview with the 14-year-old and through video surveillance at the school that he assaulted and subsequently killed the teacher before disposing of her body.
Chism’s family members appeared in court for the hearing. A woman in court sobbed out loud and they and his lawyer left without commenting to reporters.
Authorities said they have no reason to believe there were any other suspects.
Jonathan Blodgett, District Attorney of Essex County announced in a press conference this morning that authorities found a bloody, brutal scene in the school’s second-floor bathroom Tuesday night. Ritzer, who taught freshman math, was reported missing around 11:20 p.m. Tuesday when she did not return home and did not answer her cellphone.
Law enforcement sources reportedly told ABC News that Ritzer was stabbed, however officials have yet to confirm. The news outlet also reported that surveillance video inside the high school shows the student dragging Ritzer’s body from the bathroom toward the woods in what appeared to be a recycling bin. The school is a new building and is equipped with 130 cameras, officials told the news outlet.
“She was a very, very respected, loved teacher. … It’s a terrible tragedy for the entire Danvers community,” Blodgett said of Ritzer, an Assumption College and Andover High School graduate.
Ritzer described herself as a ”math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching” on her Twitter page, which was filled with math-focused tweets and encouraging words to students.
On Facebook, she recently uploaded a photo of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
A person who picked up the phone at a number listed for Colleen Ritzer said the family was not speaking at this time, however they later released a statement mourning Ritzer: “Everyone that knew and loved Colleen knew of her passion for teaching and how she mentored each and every one of her students. We would like to ask everyone to respect our privacy at this most difficult time. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.”
Salem State University, where Ritzer was a graduate student in the school counseling program, said on Twitter, “Our thoughts go out to family & friends of Colleen Ritzer. She was bright student & dedicated teacher who helped students realize potential.”
Public schools in Danvers were closed Wednesday due to the murder investigation. Calls and emails to the school district’s superintendent was not immediately returned.
About 26,000 people live in Danvers, which is located about 20 miles north of Boston. The school district includes a high school, a middle school and five elementary schools. It is unclear if schools will remain closed Thursday.
Ritzer’s death comes just days after a middle school teacher in Sparks, Nevada was shot and killed by a 12-year-old boy who threatened students with a firearm.
Chism was reported missing on Tuesday evening, and was last seen at the Hollywood Hits Cinemas around 6:30 p.m. Police said he had recently relocated to Danvers from Tennessee. Danvers Police later confirmed that he was found safely, walking on Rte. 1 around 12:30 a.m Tuesday.
At Wednesday’s hearing, a defense attorney for Chism argued that her client’s face not be shown due to his age, however a judge rebuffed the request. Defense also argued that Chism should have a mental evaluation, to which the judge agreed.
“It is critical to his defense that forensic evaluation be able to take place without delay,” Chism’s lawyer said in a court filing.
Since Tuesday night, comments on the Danvers Police Department’s Facebook post asking for help locating Chism quickly escalated from well-wishes to rage and criticism over Chism’s alleged involvement.
A woman on the forum who claimed to be Chism’s neighbor described him as “a polite and friendly boy.”
“I pray for his safe return,” she said.
Early Wednesday morning, police blocked off a portion of the Danvers High School building and were spotted combing the area, including the woods behind the school. Police declared the situation an “ongoing homicide investigation.”
Authorities say there is no threat to public safety.
A small memorial sprouted up on the school’s lawn Wednesday. Mourners took to social media today after learning of Ritzer’s murder.
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