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October 24, 2013

Students, friends shocked by teacher's murder

DANVERS, Mass. — Nearly a thousand people gathered at a vigil in this Boston suburb on Wednesday evening to remember the young high school math teacher murdered a day earlier.

The body of Colleen Ritzer, 24, was found in woods near Danvers High School Tuesday night, shortly before police arrested a 14-year-old student, Philip Chism, in connection with her murder.

Chism has been charged, as an adult, with first-degree murder, though authorities have released few details about what happened or why.

Classes were cancelled in Danvers on Wednesday, as part of the high school was still an active crime scene. In the evening students returned to campus, tears in their eyes, to light candles and leave flowers, stuffed animals and homemade signs at a makeshift memorial. They then gathered in a parking lot with parents, teachers, school administrators and the public.

Jenna Glazier, a 16-year-old junior and former student of Ritzer, remembered a generous, dedicated and helpful math teacher who often told students, “Yay, proofs!” in reference to an exercise that some begrudged.

“She just always had a huge smile on her face, and she was always willing to help everyone,” said Kelsey Brooks Jr., a 16-year-old junior.

“She loved teaching,” said Kara Behen, a 14-year-old freshman. “She was just ... amazing.”

Behen last saw Ritzer on Tueday afternoon, during the 1 p.m. to 1:55 p.m. algebra class she also shared with Chism. Nothing seemed amiss between the two, she said, though Chism had become withdrawn over the past couple weeks.

“He used to do group work, and now he sits alone,” she said, adding that he rarely said much to classmates and often listened to headphones.

Chism was first reported missing to police Tuesday afternoon, when the member of the school's junior varsity soccer team, who had recently moved from Tennessee, did not come home. Several hours later, police received a separate report, about 11:20 p.m., that Ritzer had not come home from work.

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