Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School in Massachusetts, was b*rutally mu*rdered on October 22, 2013 by one of her students, Philip Chism. She was a dedicated and passionate educator who adored her job and her students.
Colleen Ritzer’s Life Before the Tragedy
Colleen Ritzer was born in Andover, Massachusetts, on May 13, 1989, to Tom and Peggie Ritzer. Tom Jr. and Laura were her two siblings. She graduated from Andover High School in 2007 as a cheerleader and National Honor Society member.
She then went on to attend Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she majored in mathematics and minored in psychology. In 2011, she received her magna cum laude diploma.
Ritzer had dreamed of becoming a teacher since she was a child. Her teachers and mentors, who encouraged her to pursue her dream, inspired her.
She began her teaching career as a student teacher at Hale Middle School in Stow, Massachusetts, where she was praised by both students and colleagues.
She then worked as a long-term substitute teacher at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where her enthusiasm and creativity were praised.
Ritzer began her full-time teaching career in 2012 at Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts, where she taught ninth-grade algebra and geometry. She quickly established herself as a popular and well-liked teacher among her students and colleagues.
She was well-known for her upbeat demeanor, bright smile, and motivating words. She frequently used social media to communicate with her students as well as to share motivational quotes and videos. She also stayed after school to provide extra assistance and tutoring to those in need12.
Ritzer was adored by her family and friends, who described her as a beautiful soul who made everyone happy. She loved to travel, shop, bake, watch movies, and spend time with her family. She was also involved in her church and in her community.
How She Was Ki*lled by Her Student
Ritzer’s life was cut short on October 22, 2013, by a horrific act of violence committed by one of her students, Philip Chism. Chism, a 14-year-old freshman from Tennessee, had recently relocated to Danvers with his mother and two sisters. He was a soccer player and honor student with no disciplinary issues or mental health issues.
Chism followed Ritzer into the second-floor women’s bathroom after school around 3 p.m., according to surveillance footage and witness testimony, and attacked her with a box cutter he had brought with him that day.
He stabbed her in the neck and torso several times before rap*ed her with an object. He then dragged her body outside to the woods behind the school in a recycling bin. He covered her body with leaves and debris, then changed his clothes and went to a nearby theater to watch a movie with Ritzer’s credit card.
The motive for the ki*lling is unknown, but some evidence suggests that Chism was upset by something Ritzer said in class that day. Ritzer mentioned Tennessee while discussing math problems, according to one of Ritzer’s students who stayed after school for extra help. Chism became visibly agitated and began talking to himself after hearing that word, according to the student. Ritzer then changed the subject in order to calm him down.
Chism’s mother reported him missing later that night when he did not return home. Ritzer’s family also reported her missing after she did not return their calls or texts.
The school was searched by police, who discovered blood in the bathroom and Ritzer’s car in the parking lot. Around 3 a.m., they discovered Ritzer’s body in the woods, along with Chism’s backpack, which contained his bloody clothes and weapons.
Chism was discovered walking along Route 1 in Topsfield the next day around 12:30 p.m. by an officer who recognized him from his missing person flyer. As an adult, he was arrested and charged with murd*er.
Trial and Sentencing
Chism’s trial began in November 2015 in Salem, Massachusetts, at the Essex County Superior Court. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree m*urder, aggravated rap*e, and armed robbery charges.
His defense team claimed that he was suffering from a psychotic disorder at the time of the crime and had no idea what was right and wrong. They presented evidence of his mental health history, family background, and behavior prior to and following the mur*der.
The prosecution claimed that Chism kil*led Ritzer with premeditation, malice, and extreme atrocity or cruelty. They presented evidence of his preparation, motivation, actions, and attempts to conceal the crime. They also showed the jury graphic photos and videos of the crime scene and autopsy.
The three-week trial included more than 40 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. On December 15, 2015, the jury deliberated for nine hours over two days before reaching a decision.
Chism was found guilty of first-degree mu*rder with premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty, but not of aggravated r-ape. He was also convicted of armed robbery for stealing Ritzer’s credit card.
Chism was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years for mu*rder, as well as two concurrent 40-year sentences for robbery. While in custody, he was also ordered to receive psychiatric treatment. He is currently incarcerated at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility in Shirley, Massachusetts.
For her dedication and excellence as a teacher, Ritzer received numerous posthumous honors and recognitions. In 2014, the National Association of Math Teachers named her Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. President Barack Obama also presented her with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2015. In 2016, she was also inducted into the Andover High School Hall of Honor.
Ritzer’s family and friends also published Why Her?, a book about her life and legacy. The Colleen Ritzer Story was released in 2017. Personal stories, photos, and messages from those who knew and loved her are included in the book. The book aims to honor Ritzer’s spirit while also sharing her positive impact on the world.