(NECN: Eileen Curran, Danvers, Mass.) - "I was just crying all day long," said Danvers High School freshman Olivia Perez.
It was a gut-wrenching day at the Massachusetts school on Friday -- the first day back for students following the murder of a popular teacher.
"All of us were struggling," said Perez. "We were in the atrium and all of us were just hugging each other and crying -- I even saw some boys cry which is something I never thought I would see."
The school is mourning the loss of 24-year-old math teacher Colleen Ritzer.
Her body was found Wednesday morning in some woods behind the school.
Police have charged one of her students, 14-year-old Philip Chism, with first degree murder. They say he killed her in a second floor bathroom Tuesday afternoon, then used a recycling bin to dump her body in the woods. Chism, who recently moved to Danvers from Tennessee, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
No one answered the door at the suspect’s home Friday as a mini van with Tennessee plates sat outside.
Meanwhile at the school, there were no official lessons being taught, only a sad life lesson for teachers to give students.
"All of them (teachers) talked about it," said senior Devlyn Borders, who had Miss Ritzer for math last year. "They were all really upset too. We were mostly here to help them I think."
Olivia Perez was in one of Ms. Ritzer’s classes this year, though not with Chism. She said the staff removed everything from the room, but despite the eeriness, the kids leaned on each other for support.
"I wish they had left some of her stuff just so it didn’t feel as bare as it did," said Perez. "I even held my friends hand as we walked in, she didn’t even want to walk in so we walked in together."
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