By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — Colleen Ritzer was living her dream, everyone who knew her says.
Teaching math at Danvers High School, she was happy, energized and devoted to her students, they say.
“She was just an amazing person who loved life,” said Jennifer Berger, who graduated with Ritzer from Andover High School in 2007. The two also went to Sanborn Elementary and West Middle School together.
Berger was with Ritzer Saturday night watching the Red Sox at Berger’s home, just days before police say Ritzer, 24, of 5 Dascomb Road was slain by a 14-year-old Danvers High student.
“She was so kind and caring,” Berger said. “She could find joy in the littlest things in life. If she was having a bad day she would find a quote from a song that would turn it around.
“I just want people to know how amazing she was ... she was my go-to best friend. I just can’t believe she is gone,” Berger said before bursting into tears.
Others recalled Ritzer as someone with a great personality who always made them smile.
Dan Yanofsky, who also graduated in the class of 2007, said he first met Ritzer in a TV production class taught by retired high school teacher Joe Spanos.
“Colleen was one of the sweetest and most caring people I’ve ever met,” Yanofsky said. “I never saw her with anything but a smile on her face, and she had a positive attitude about everything. She cared more about her family and friends than anything else.”
He said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he heard the news yesterday.
“My first reaction was just how unfair it was for her to go this way,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen to anyone, but it feels even more cruel when I know just how kind and happy she was. When they said her name on the news I felt sick to my stomach.”
Lindsay Schoen, who graduated from both Andover High and Assumption College a year ahead of Ritzer, said that while they weren’t close, they were always friendly with each other.
“The one thing you always noticed about Colleen was her smile,” Schoen said. “It was one of the biggest smiles you’ll ever see.”
She noted that Ritzer was also a “great math student. I had her in a few math classes at Assumption and she was a great student ... She really was one of the sweetest people I ever met.”
Cars streamed up to the house at the corner of Dascomb and Blood roads all day yesterday.
In the afternoon, an uncle, Dale Webster, brought out a statement from the family typed on a white piece of paper.
“At this time, we are mourning the tragic death of our amazing, beautiful daughter and sister,” it read. “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.”
Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo also issued a statement, saying that Ritzer graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in psychology with a concentration in secondary education.
“Colleen will be missed by all those who knew her,” he said. “The Assumption community will keep Colleen’s family members in its thoughts and prayers during this time of great sorrow and loss.”
Yanofsky said he wasn’t surprised that Ritzer became a teacher.
“I do remember her talking about it in high school,” he said. “I knew that she would be great for the job, because of her attitude toward people. I knew that students of any age would respond to her bubbly demeanor.”
Berger agreed, saying Ritzer had always wanted to become a teacher.
“In our fifth-grade yearbook, when it says what do you want to be when you grow up, she said teacher,” Berger remembered. “She loved her job. Loved it.”
An ice hockey nut who never played the sport, Ritzer especially enjoyed watching her younger sister, Laura, a student at AHS, play hockey.
“She loved her little sister and liked supporting Laura so she would go to her games,” Berger said. “She was that type. So caring.”
Ritzer’s younger brother, Daniel, graduated from Andover High in 2011 and now attends the University of Connecticut.
Berger said when the two were away from each other at college — Berger at Bentley and Ritzer at Assumption — Ritzer would send her regular notes.
“There were no holidays or birthdays needed,” she said. “They were random and basically said ‘I miss you and can’t wait to hang out with you again.’ Simple little things like that.”
Berger knew something was wrong when Ritzer’s parents called her on Tuesday night.
“Her mother called us to see if I knew where she was because she hadn’t been home,” she said.
Yesterday morning, Ritzer’s parents delivered her the devastating news.
“I didn’t think it was real,” she said. “Things like this shouldn’t happen to good people like her.”
Berger said she felt the worst for Ritzer’s family.
“Her parents are the most amazing people,” she said. “They do not deserve any of this.”
Mary Duffy of 7 Dascomb Road, who has been neighbors of the Ritzers for the last 24 or 25 years, said they are a great family.
“I love the family,” she said. “They have a beautiful family. If every family throughout America was like that, there would be no trouble. It would be a Utopia.”
She described Colleen as “pleasant and happy. ... She was not rowdy. She was funny, and she was focused on what was going on. ...
“In this day and age, this isn’t that surprising. It is shocking because I knew her, and I’m devastated by the loss.”
Staff reporters Judy Wakefield, Dustin Luca, Alex Lippa and Bill Burt contributed to this story.