Cheers to the thousands of walkers and runners who turned out Sunday to honor the memory of murdered teacher Colleen Ritzer.
Some 4,000 walkers and runners participated in the first Step Up for Colleen 5K memorial road race through town. Proceeds from the event will go to a scholarship fund in the Andover teacher’s memory. The fund will be used to support aspiring teachers.
Ritzer, 24, was a math teacher at Danvers High. She was killed in October; police have charged her student, now-15-year-old Philip Chism, with her murder.
Many of those who turned out for the event are themselves teachers.
“She was just an amazing person and an amazing math teacher,” Amy Keough, a first-grade teacher in Stow who knew Ritzer, told reporter Jill Harmacinski. Ritzer had taught briefly in Stow and Keough’s daughter had her as a teacher.
High school students from throughout the region also participated in the race. Danvers High School’s a cappella group sang for the participants as they waited and then sang the national anthem at the race’s start.
Family friend Nina Caron, a competitive runner herself, was struck with the idea to organize a race in the days following Ritzer’s murder. Her need to act turned into a unifying opportunity for people from all corners of Ritzer’s life to come together over a shared grief and desire to create some good out of the tragedy.
But it’s evident there’s still much healing to be done. The anguish could still be seen on the faces of Ritzer’s immediate family as her father addressed the crowd of participants before Sunday’s race began.
Despite the pain, the family saw the importance of thanking those who have supported and stood by them through their darkest times. And they stood tall as they acknowledged that knowing that their daughter and sister had touched so many lives had been an immense source of pride for them.