By Dustin Luca
---- — As the community mourned the loss of Colleen Ritzer this week, her former Andover High School production teacher called for her story to lead efforts for ending school violence.
Joe Spanos, a retired Andover High School marketing and business teacher, became a frequent voice in the sorrow of the past week, urging the community to not let Ritzer die in vain.
“The most non-violent person gets attacked in the most violent way,” Spanos said outside St. Augustine Church in Andover following Ritzer’s funeral Mass Monday morning. “We’ve got to stop the violence — and make Colleen Ritzer the poster child for that.”
Spanos started teaching in Andover in 1978 and retired in 2011 — but not before coming to know Ritzer on a personal level prior to her graduation in 2007.
On top of giving her an award for Excellence in TV Production, he also worked with her for three years at a family-owned convenience store.
“She lit up the room,” Spanos said. “I’d say, ‘Turn the lights off! Colleen is here. Save the power.’”
When Spanos heard the news of her death, “I cried,” he said. “She was a great student. ... She always wanted to be a teacher.”
He said it was nor surprising for people to turn out by the hundreds — including the busloads of her students and teaching colleagues at Danvers High School.
“You’d expect this for Colleen,” Spanos said. “Absolutely expect it. We’re just all shattered here. ... Our lives are shattered — can you imagine the immediate family?”
Spanos praised the Ritzer family for raising three wonderful children, including Ritzer’s younger brother, Dan, and sister, Laura.
“The Ritzer family did it right. They brought their kids up the way we should bring them up. (Colleen) was the salt of the earth. She was an angel,” Spanos said. “We, as a family, need to look at our children, look in our households, get them help. To have her go down this way is unconscionable.”
The shock of Ritzer’s murder will wear off in time, Spanos said, “and you have to come to grips with what happened.”
“To lose her at 24 years old, that’s a crime,” he said. “It’s time to really come together and stop this violence.”