Murder Charges for 14-Year-Old After Teacher Found Dead in the Woods

Posted at 2:25 PM, Oct 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-23 14:25:17-04

(CNN) — A bloody mystery played out Wednesday in Danvers, Massachusetts, where students were mourning the death of a well-liked young educator found slain in the woods behind the high school where she taught.

Authorities on Wednesday charged 14-year-old Philip Chism with the murder of Colleen Ritzer, whose body was found after she failed to return home from work Tuesday.

Chism was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Salem, Massachusetts, on a murder charge and was ordered held without bail. A grand jury must decide if he will be charged as an adult.

According to the accusation read in court, the boy is accused of assaulting and beating Ritzer to death.

According to Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, police found Ritzer’s body after discovering blood in a second-floor bathroom of Danvers High School, where the 24-year-old was a beloved math teacher known for posting inspirational messages to her Twitter account and offering her students extra help when they needed it.

“There’s not words to describe her,” freshman Spencer Wade said of Ritzer. “She’s such an excellent teacher.”

All seven schools in the suburban Boston town were closed Wednesday as a result of the investigation.

The report of Colleen Ritzer’s death came two days after a student with a gun killed a teacher in Sparks, Nevada.

Chism, who also had been reported missing Tuesday afternoon, was arrested early Wednesday after being found walking down a street, Blodgett said. There are no other suspects, he said.

The connection between Ritzer and the boy was not clear. In a news conference held before the boy’s arraignment, Blodgett declined to discuss details of any connection between the teacher and the boy, citing his status as a juvenile. He did not say whether the boy is a student at the school.

“This is a terrible tragedy for Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers community,” Blodgett said.

Ritzer graduated from Assumption College in 2011, the school said on Twitter. She was pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling at Salem State University, that school said in a prepared statement.

“As a dedicated teacher, Colleen wanted to work with and help children with special needs,” an e-mail from the university read. “She believed children have much to offer and often do not realize how special they are as individuals. In her application to Salem State she said she was dedicated to ‘helping students in times of need.'”

On her Twitter account, Ritzer interspersed homework assignments and exhortations to work through tough math problems with cooking talk and inspirational messages.

“No matter what happens in life, be good to people,” she wrote in August. “Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”

Ritzer’s aunt, Shirley Martellucci, said the family is in shock.

“We’re holding up as best we can,” she said.

Ritzer, who lived with her parents, was in her second year teaching at the school, Martellucci said. She had never had any trouble with students, she said.

“She always wanted to be a teacher, all her life,” Martellucci said. “It’s just unbelievable that someone would take her life at such a young age.”

The district issued a statement Wednesday calling Ritzer “a dynamic and brilliant ray of light.”

“Colleen Ritzer was everything one could ask for in a teacher — dedicated, passionate and invested in her students. Our entire community will feel this loss for many years to come,” the school said.

Ritzer’s students were similarly dismayed.

Ritzer “was literally the sweetest, most harmless person ever,” Twitter user samanthawxo posted Wednesday. “She always wanted to help anyone in any way she could.”

It wasn’t immediately clear why the district closed all of its schools after the discovery of Ritzer’s body.

Danvers, a town of about 26,000 people about 20 miles northeast of Boston, has a high school, a middle school and five elementary schools.