Real Life

Beloved teacher, 24, murdered by her teen student

Colleen Ritzer didn't know 14-year-old Philip Chism was capable of such evil.
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Teaching had been a lifelong dream for Colleen Ritzer.

Ever since she was little, she’d wanted to help others – and had quickly learned sharing her aptitude for maths was the way she could do that.

Her friends described her as “energetic” and “compassionate” in her quest to teach in a school. She graduated from teaching college in 2011, then completed a masters the following year.

Colleen Ritzer landed her dream teaching job at the age of 24.

By 2013, when she was 24 years old, Colleen had landed a position teaching ninth-grade algebra at Danvers High School, where she was adored by her students and colleagues.

“You couldn’t have asked for more from a teacher or from a friend,” one said.

Outside of school, she loved her family, posting games and quizzes for her students on Twitter, and listening to Taylor Swift.

On October 22, 2013, Colleen was at work as usual.

Her teaching day finished at 2pm, but she stayed back to help students with extra tutoring and after school activities.

That day, 14-year-old Philip Chism was one of the students who’d stayed behind after class.

Philip was new at the school, having moved from another state a year earlier after his parents’ tumultuous split and subsequent divorce.

While he’d joined the soccer team, he was otherwise known to be quiet and distant.

That night, Colleen’s parents, Peggie and Tom, became worried when their daughter didn’t come home for dinner, which she usually ate with them every evening.

They tried calling her phone, but she didn’t answer.

It was completely out of character.

Footage from the Danvers High School security camera shows Philip Chism moving a recycling barrel from the ladies’ room to the hallway of the school.

Tom went to the school to look for his daughter and noticed her car was still in the parking lot, so he went inside the building to check on her.

But she wasn’t in her classroom and none of the other teachers had seen her that afternoon.

Worried, Tom reported his daughter missing. Then, at 9pm that night, the principal of the school sent an email around to say that a student was also missing.

That student was Philip Chism.

Once police made the connection that Philip had stayed back for tutoring with Colleen, they began looking for them both, thinking they may have run off together.

It was far worse than they ever could have imagined.

On a footpath close to the school, they found Colleen’s empty handbag.

Later that night, police found Philip Chism walking along a highway, his hands covered in blood.

When they frisked him, they discovered he was carrying Colleen’s driver’s licence and credit card.

Chism lied, saying he’d broken into Colleen’s car and stolen the items.

He was taken to the police station where his backpack was searched. Inside, police found Colleen’s underwear, a black hoodie and a box cutter knife stained with blood.

When asked whose blood it was, Chism replied: “It’s the girl’s. She’s buried in the woods.”

Police markers are placed near blood stains found inside the ladies’ bathroom inside Danvers High School.

At 3am, upon following Chism’s directions, they found Colleen’s half-naked body covered with leaves. She’d been raped, her throat had been slit and she’d been stabbed at least 16 times.

There was a handwritten note beside her body that read: I hate you all.

Chism was charged with the murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery of Colleen Ritzer.

He was tried as an adult in December 2015 and pleaded not guilty. Chism admitted killing Colleen, but said he was suffering mental illness at the time.

At his trial, it was revealed that Colleen had ‘triggered’ Chism by talking about his move from his former hometown.

CCTV footage revealed Colleen leaving her classroom at 2.54pm that day and heading into the women’s bathroom. The video showed Chism following her, slipping on gloves and covering his face with a hoodie.

He followed her into the bathroom where he raped and stabbed her.

Further footage showed him exiting the bathroom, changing his jacket, before returning with a large recycling bin.

A camera picked him up wheeling the bin – with Colleen’s body inside – down the footpath outside the school while wearing a ski mask.

Philip Chism is seated at his arraignment inside Salem Superior Court. (Photo by Patrick Whittemore/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

The court heard that after dumping Colleen’s body, he took her credit card and used it to buy a ticket to a Woody Allen film.

The jury didn’t accept Chism’s mental illness defence, instead finding him guilty on all charges.

Ahead of the sentencing, prosecutor Kate MacDougall asked for a life sentence for Chism, saying: “These are crimes that make one’s soul ache.”

Philip Chism, 16, was sentenced to life, with a minimum of 40 years in prison. He showed no emotion as the sentence was read out.

Superior Court Judge David Lowy said: “The crashing waves of this tragedy will never wane.”

Colleen’s family read emotional impact statements. Her dad, Tom, felt he had failed his daughter.

“I didn’t protect Colleen,” he said. “A dad’s job is to fix things. I would do anything if I could fix this for Colleen.”

Her mum Peggie said her daughter’s death had left her “so very broken”.

“Now, I isolate myself from people I love because pretending to be happy is so difficult,” she said.

Of her daughter’s killer, she said: “He is pure evil and can never be rehabilitated.”

Diana Chism, Philip’s mum said: “Words can’t express the amount of pain and sorrow these past two and a half years have been.

However, there is no-one who has suffered more than the Ritzer family.

My utmost esteem, prayers, and humble respect is with them today as they continue their journey to heal.”

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