Hundreds turn out for vigil honoring slain Danvers High math teacher


DANVERS, Mass. ( -- Hundreds turned out for a candlelight vigil on the parking lot of Danvers High School Wednesday night to honor 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, a teacher at the school who was murdered, allegedly at the hand of one of her students.

Many wore pink, Ritzer's favorite color. They prayed and sang and, at the end of the vigil, placed their candles along with some stuffed animals in the middle of a ring they formed for the gathering.

The Boston Red Sox also held a moment of silence for Ritzer before game one of the 2013 World Series.

Phillip Chism, 14, is accused of killing the beloved math teacher. He faced a murder charge in Salem District Court Wednesday afternoon and was held without bail. He will be tried as an adult in the case.

A source told FOX 25's Heather Hegedus that Chism admitted to police that he followed Ritzer into the women's restroom, punched her in the face and slashed her throat with a box cutter.

The source told Hegedus that Chism put Ritzer's body in a recycling bin and brought it to the woods near the school.

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett says officials were notified that Ritzer had not returned home from work Tuesday and was not answering her cell phone at about 11:20 p.m. Investigators entered the high school to look for Ritzer and found blood inside a second floor bathroom. 

Ritzer's body was discovered a short time later in the woods near the high school.

Police found Chism, who was reported missing Tuesday night, walking on Route 1 in Topsfield at about 12:30 a.m.

Chism had previously been identified as the teen whose disappearance sparked the homicide investigation at Danvers High School. He stood behind a glass window as the charges against him were read Wednesday.

A junior at the school says Chism was a top goal scorer on the junior varsity soccer team. He classified the 14-year-old as a quiet, nice kid.

"He wasn't violent at all. He was really the opposite of aggressive," Kyle Cahill said.

Ritzer's neighbor tells FOX 25 she knew Colleen for her entire life. Mary Duff says the 24-year-old always wanted to be a math teacher. Duff says Colleen has two siblings and everyone is devastated by her death.

The Ritzer family issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying, "At this time, we are mourning the tragic death of our 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. We would like to ask everyone to respect our privacy at this most difficult time. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers."

The superintendent of Andover Public Schools, where Ritzer attended high school, expressed the school district's grief over her death.

"Today we mourn the tragic loss of Colleen Ritzer, a teacher at Danvers High School and a 2007 graduate of AHS," said superintendent Marinel D. McGrath in a statement Wednesday. "Our deepest sympathies go out to the Ritzer family and the Danvers Public School Community at this difficult time."

The president of the Danvers Teacher's Association said: "Colleen was a young, vibrant and committed teacher at Danvers High. This was only her second year with us.  As a staff we are shaken by this senseless act of violence.  We are compassionate and caring professionals who are committed to teach, mentor and protect young people.  This event is a sad betrayal of our life goals.  But we intend on pushing forward, giving support to our colleagues and the kids we teach.  And Colleen will be much in our thoughts these next few days."

After graduating from Andover High School, Ritzer went on to Assumption College. She graduated magna cum laude in 2011 with a degree in math and a minor in psychology with a secondary education concentration.

The Andover native's love for teaching was evident through the Twitter account she used to keep students up-to-date on assignments. Her bio reads, "Math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching." In one tweet from last week, she wishes sophomore and junior students good luck on the PSATs.

Students describe Ritzer as the "nicest teacher anyone could ever have," saying she could always be seen with a smile on her face. 

Danvers Public Schools were closed Wednesday. School officials said classes for grades K through 8 would resume Thursday. Classes for high school students will resume Friday.

Danvers High School will be open from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday and grief counselors will be on hand.

Philip Chism is due back in court for a probable cause hearing Nov. 22.

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