Classes resume at Danvers, Mass. high school after teacher's murder

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October 25, 2013, 9:36 am
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(NECN: Jackie Bruno, Danvers, Mass.) - A candle light vigil for Colleen Ritzer was held at her former school. She taught math at Stow's Hale Middle School before moving to Danvers High.

Students returned Friday to Danvers High School for the first time since the murder.

The bathroom where the crime occurred is closed, and there are other changes at school, too.

Back to class for students means back to the school where their beloved teacher was killed on Tuesday.

“We’ll never recover from the loss of Colleen... But we want to get this community and this school back to some sort of normalcy.”

It was a big step forward to return to classes, but there are clear clues that nothing is normal at Danvers High School. First was the heavy police presence as buses pulled in. Then there’s the memorial on the front lawn. And, when students go inside, they’ll see that Ritzer’s classroom has already been stripped.

“There was none of her stuff in the room, it was bare,” said one student.

Fellow student 14-year-old Phil Chism will also not be in school. He’s in custody, accused of killing Ritzer Tuesday and dumping her body in the woods. Police sources say he slit her throat with a box cutter and rolled her body away from the school in a recycling bin.

The big question that remains unanswered is why.

“We don’t know why and that really is making everybody so, it make the whole mourning process much more difficult," said one parent.

According to students, Chism was quiet but he was a good soccer player. He was good enough to make the JV team.

“As the new kid, he didn't have like a lot of friends, but you could talk to him and he'd be like very friendly to you."

“He didn't like it. He wanted to be back in Tennessee,” says sophomore Zachary McAdam.

Freshman Gilberto Perez and McAdam say they were friends with Chism and all three were in Ritzer’s algebra class together.

“He just became more and more distant…he would draw in his notebook in the back of class and listen to music."

Perez says on Tuesday, Ritzer asked Chism to see her after class.

"He wasn't really doing his work," he said. "So she just wanted him to stay after to do some work because we do have a test tomorrow."

Perez says he couldn't tell if Chism was upset about having to stay, but Ritzer never made it seem like he was in trouble. Perez did go back to the classroom about a half hour later to ask Ritzer a question about the homework.

"But when I got up there," he said, "no one was in there, but his backpack was in the room and the door was wide open."

Hours later, Ritzer was found dead.

On Thursday, over 300 students came in for counseling and over 1,000 parents attended the parent meeting Thursday evening. All were looking for some direction about how to navigate through this grief and fear. Counselors will be on hand Friday for any students who need to talk some more. 

The Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) is accepting gifts in support of the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship. Gifts may be made online here or mailed to:

Essex County Community Foundation
175 Andover Street
Danvers, MA 01923

Tags: Jackie Bruno, danvers massachusetts, Philip Chism, Danvers High School, colleen ritzer
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