Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 21, 2013

Uniting in the spirit of community

The Andover Townsman

---- — Last month, the Andover community came together to grieve the death of a young school teacher who was unfairly robbed of her life.

People from every corner of the town showed their caring and compassion for the many loved ones who 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer left behind — from her parents and siblings to her friends and classmates to the high school students in Danvers who she touched in countless ways. Even those who didn’t knew her felt their collective pain and suffering amid the unexplainable circumstances surrounding her death.

On Friday, nearly one month after her murder, a judge is expected to rule on whether to release sealed search warrant materials and other files in the criminal case. Those files may shed some light on Colleen’s final moments and how it came for one of her students to be charged with the crime.

If the documents are released, at least in part, as they are expected to be, it will likely reopen all-too-fresh wounds. Details may begin to emerge — details that may help explain, but likely will never help any of us to truly understand the tragedy that occurred.

The Rev. Peter Gori, pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Andover where the Ritzers have been longtime parishioners, said after Colleen’s funeral that “it takes a whole sense of community, that experience of community, that blessing of the community to absorb and endure an experience like this.”

In the days that followed, Fr. Gori urged community members not to remove Colleen from their consciousness. He encouraged them to continue to show her family love and support in every possibly way, as it already had.

“Even in the true wake of such horrible, horrible numbing action as what led to this, it also let flow this torrent of goodness of and caring and compassion and it’s ironic and it’s mysterious that this experience has made a lot of people’s hearts grow,” Fr. Gori said.

Rabbi Robert Goldstein of Temple Emanuel of Andover was among those who attended Colleen’s wake, not because he knew her or her family, but to offer his support and comfort as both a member of the spiritual community and the greater community of Andover. Goldstein said he was touched by the extraordinary outpouring of love and compassion shown by the people who call Andover home.

In his column today on the celebration of Thanksgiving, Goldstein says there is something meaningful about gathering as a community to share our burdens and express our gratitude.

The year, he says, has been one of joy and tragedy, with examples of both triumph and, sadly, of evil on more than one occasion.

But Goldstein says Thanksgiving offers one of those rare opportunities when people of all faiths can gather, honoring our differences as individuals and celebrating all that we share as people.

On Sunday, Temple Emanuel of Andover will host the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service for the community. Members of the Christian, Jewish and Moslem communities will be among those participating in the service of prayer and song.

As the community gathers in thanksgiving, the Ritzers will continue grieving. It is Fr. Gori’s hope they will also continue to feel the warm embrace of their community and take comfort in knowing Colleen’s memory lives on and guides others in making a difference in the world — as she herself had sought to do.

“Side by side, it’s not that evil causes the greater good, but the experience is drawing out lots of goodness from people,” Gori said. “I hope it continues to do this. The choice is ours to be changed by this.”