Family of Danvers Teacher Raped, Killed, By Student Sues Town and Businesses

Colleen Ritzer was killed by a student in 2013

The family of a Danvers, Massachusetts teacher who was raped and brutally murdered by one of her students in 2013 has filed a lawsuit against the town and two businesses.

Colleen Ritzer's family filed the suit against the town, the school department, the architectural firm that designed the area of the school where Ritzer was killed and the cleaning company that washed away evidence. The suit includes a wrongful death claim against DiNisco Design Partnership as well as emotional distress claims against DiNisco, the town of Danvers, the school department, and SJ Services, Inc., the school's cleaning company.

Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha released a statement saying that "Colleen's death was a tragedy for the whole community and our hearts continue to go out to the Ritzer family." He said the town respects the legal process the family is pursuing, but will have no further comment.

Ritzer was raped and murder by Phillip Chism on Oct. 22, 2013. Prosecutors said Chism strangled his algebra teacher and stabbed her with a box cutter in a Danvers High School bathroom, then used a recycling bin to bring her body into nearby woods.

Chism was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years for Ritzer's murder and no less than 40 years for her rape and armed robbery. Chism was 14 at the time of the killing, but was tried as an adult.

During his trial, his lawyer admitted that Chism killed Ritzer, but said he was suffering from severe mental illness and was not criminally responsible for his actions. A psychiatrist who testified for the defense said Chism was hearing voices and in the throes of a psychotic episode when he killed Ritzer. Jurors rejected an insanity defense.

On the day of the murder, Ritzer asked Chism to stay after school. Another student who also stayed late that day testified that Ritzer tried to engage Chism - a student who had recently moved to Massachusetts - in light talk about how his new community compared with his old town of Clarksville, Tennessee. The student said Chism became visibly upset and Ritzer eventually changed the subject.

A short time later, Ritzer left the classroom. Jurors at Chism's trial were shown chilling surveillance video that showed Ritzer walking down the hallway to the bathroom.

Seconds later, Chism is seen poking his head out of her classroom and looking down the hall. He then goes back into the classroom, but comes right back out with his hood on.

Chism is then shown putting on a pair of gloves as he walks into the bathroom. Minutes later, he is shown emerging from the bathroom carrying the black pants Ritzer was wearing.

The Ritzer family says in the lawsuit that it is not seeking any financial compensation. It is seeking answers to these and other questions:

  • With a state of the art security system, why was no one monitoring the cameras that were placed throughout the campus?
  • What measures have been taken to correct the deficiencies in the security system?
  • What measures are planned to address security deficiencies at the school?
  • Why was Ritzer in the academic wing by herself?
  • How could Chism roam so freely from the classroom to the recycling bin area, back to the ladies room, out to the woods, back to the school and back to the woods again, at times visibly showing blood, without being noticed by personnel or being identified on the video surveillance system?
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