Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


October 31, 2013

Motive remains unclear in Ritzer murder

It started with an all-too-common request that happens every day in every school all over the world: A teacher asking a student to stay after class for extra help.

But in this case, police say, that request led to the death of a young, popular teacher at the hands of one of her students.

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, according to police, Colleen Ritzer of Andover asked Phillip Chism, 14, of Danvers, to stay after class to get extra help in math.

While details remain sketchy because police records and court documents in the case have been sealed, it is evident from security cameras recovered from the high school that at some point, Ritzer went to the bathroom. She was followed five minutes later by Chism.

Police, responding to a missing-persons report on Ritzer, went to the school and found blood in the second-floor bathroom. Security footage and interviews with the suspect led police to recover her body in woods outside the school.

“It is apparent she was a homicide victim,” said Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett at a press conference the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 23.

It is known that investigators have searched Chism’s home. Law enforcement sources familiar with the case have provided some details, including that a box cutter was the apparent weapon.

Last Wednesday, Chism had a plea of not guilty entered on his behalf in the death of Ritzer. Salem District Court Judge Matthew Nestor ordered Chism held without bail, pending a probable cause hearing Nov. 22.

Court documents released after the hearing offer few new details, and do not confirm exactly how Ritzer was killed. The documents offer no motive for the slaying.

Defense lawyer Denise Regan filed a motion seeking funds for a mental health evaluation of Chism.

People who knew Chism said he was a quiet kid. They said he was a soccer player and a skateboarder, and a newcomer to town who had moved here over the summer from Tennessee.

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