An undated photo of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year old teacher at Danvers High School
Massachusetts police say they linked a 14-year-old high-school student to the murder of math teacher Colleen Ritzer through video surveillance — and his own words.
Philip Chism, a freshman at Danvers High School, was charged as an adult with first-degree murder. He was ordered held without bail at a Wednesday afternoon arraignment in Salem, Mass.
A criminal complaint states authorities "learned from an interview of the juvenile suspect and video surveillance recovered at the school" that the suspect assaulted and killed Ritzer and then dumped her body.
Ritzer, 24, was found just after midnight in the woods near the school, about a half-hour outside Boston. Blood was found in a second-floor bathroom at the school, authorities said.
Authorities did not discuss a motive or say how the teacher — who was in a graduate program on school counseling — was killed.
Jonathan Blodgett, the Essex County district attorney, told reporters that it was a “terrible tragedy.”
“She was a very, very respected, loved teacher,” he said.
Before Wednesday night's World Series game, Fenway Park was to observe a moment of silence for Ritzer — who was described by her students as upbeat, enthusiastic and kind.
Chism had recently moved to Danvers from Tennessee and was new to the school. He had a spot on the junior varsity soccer squad.
Teammates told The Boston Globe that Chism is the leading scorer on the JV soccer team, but he failed to make the team practice on Tuesday at 4 p.m. or a regular team dinner at 6 p.m. that is held at a teammate’s home.
He was reported missing Tuesday when he didn't come home from school, and other Danvers students joined the hunt for him.
At about 11:20 p.m., police learned that Ritzer was missing. Her body was found in the woods, and Chism was picked up while walking along a highway soon after.
"Based on his statements and the corroborating evidence found at multiple scenes at the Danvers High School and surrounding wooded area, [he] was subsequently placed into custody and booked for murder," the complaint says.
Danvers senior Mitchell Bussone, 17, was among those who went looking for Chism on Tuesday night.
“We thought something bad had happened to him,” he said.
When he turned on the TV this morning and learned that the boy he knew from soccer and gym class had been found and was suspected of killing Ritzer, he was in “disbelief.”
“What went through my head was how could this happen? That’s what everyone is asking.”
Though he did not know Chism well, he said there was no sign he was troubled.
“A lot of us welcomed him in. He fit in and we liked him. He seemed like a normal kid,” he said.
Students gathered for a candlelight vigil on campus in Ritzer’s honor on Wednesday night. Some said they planned to attend wearing pink because it was the teacher’s favorite color.
Public schools in Danvers closed on Wednesday but were scheduled to reopen on Thursday, with counselors and grief specialists on hand at the high school.
Reuters / Brian Snyder
A police officer guards the entrance to the high school Wednesday in Danvers, Mass.
First published October 23 2013, 3:17 PM