A popular 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School in Massachusetts was found dead in woods near campus, and a 14-year-old student was charged with murder in her death, authorities said.
Colleen Ritzer, described as an upbeat teacher who enthusiastically tweeted out class assignments, was reported missing Tuesday night when she did not come home from work and was not answering her cellphone, police said.
During a police search, officers discovered blood in the second-floor bathroom of the suburban high school, and began to search school property. Ritzer’s body was found in woods near the school.
“It is apparent that she is a homicide victim,” Jonathan Blodgett, the district attorney in Essex County said at a news conference. “This is a terrible tragedy for the family of Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers family.”
A missing-person report was also filed Tuesday for Philip D. Chism, a Danvers High student who did not come home from school and was one of Ritzer’s students.
About 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, police responded to a report of a pedestrian on a busy road, who turned out to be Chism. Investigators said in court documents that arrest was based on statements by Chism, corroborating evidence at multiple scenes and surveillance video from the school.
Chism pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in adult court to a first-degree murder charge.
His attorney moved to have the boy physically shielded from view so he couldn’t be seen by court goers, but a judge denied that motion, said Essex District Attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan. Chism’s attorney also agreed to prosecutors’ wishes to have the boy held without bail, a move that also precluded prosecutors from reading evidence out against him in court at the hearing, Kimball Monahan said.
The Essex District Attorney’s office intends to pursue a grand jury indictment for murder, allowing Chism to be treated as an adult in court.
Ritzer’s death comes 2 days after a Sparks, Nev., student shot and killed a math teacher, Michael Landsberry, a former Marine and Nevada National Guardsman, at school on Monday.
All Danvers schools were closed for the day. Authorities said the high school remained an active crime scene. Ritzer’s death is being mourned in Danvers and online.
Ritzer graduated magna cum laude in 2011 from Assumption College in Worcester, with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in psychology with a concentration in secondary education. She maintained an active presence on social media such as Pinterest and Twitter, describing herself on the latter as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.”
It was on Twitter where Ritzer tweeted out lesson assignments to students along with characteristically upbeat non sequiturs.
“Hope everyone enjoyed their first day!! Fun seeing you all! All classes: signed syllabus & mathography due Monday” she tweeted in September.
The echoes of her passion could be felt from the students and community members who shared their own tributes online.
“Hearing ms ritzer’s name just made me lose it, tears in my eyes, and a heavy heart, a great teacher, it was a pleasure to have you #RIP,” one boy tweeted.
There was one message of Ritzer’s own that continue to spread around Twitter with the tributes to her, in what may prove to be her most lasting words:
“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”