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Danvers homicide: 14-year-old charged in second US teacher killing this week (+video)

Danvers homicide in Massachusetts came to attention after a high school student and teacher were reported as missing Tuesday evening. The incident follows the teacher death in a shooting at a Nevada middle school Monday.

By Contributor / October 23, 2013

Student Christian Veatch (bottom) pauses after leaving flowers and a teddy bear outside the high school in Danvers, Mass., Oct. 23, 2013. Police found the body of Colleen Ritzer, a math teacher at the school, in woods near the facility.

Brian Snyder/ Reuters

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A 14-year-old high school student has been charged in the death of a math teacher in a suburb of Boston – the second killing of a teacher in the United States this week.

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Katherine Jacobsen writes for the Monitor's international desk. 

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A 14-year-old high school student, Philip Chism, was arraigned for the murder of math teacher Colleen Ritzer on Wednesday morning.

Philip Chism was arraigned in adult court on Wednesday morning for the murder of Colleen Ritzer, whose body was found in the woods near Danvers High School.

Police began an investigation into the disappearances of Philip and Ms. Ritzer after they were reported missing on Tuesday evening.

Blood was discovered in a second-floor bathroom at the school late Tuesday night before her body was found behind the facility, according to the Associated Press.

Shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, Philip was spotted walking along a road in Topsfield, Mass., a town about five miles away from Danvers.

In court documents, law enforcement officers said they arrested Philip based on statements made by the suspect and corroborating evidence at multiple scenes. They also recovered video surveillance.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said there is no reason to believe anyone else was involved and there is no threat to public safety.

“It is apparent that she is a homicide victim,” Mr. Blodgett said at a news conference. “This is a terrible tragedy for the family of Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers family.”

Ritzer, who was in her 20s, was a native of Andover, Mass., and an alumna of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in math, a minor in psychology, and a secondary-education concentration. 

"She was the nicest teacher anyone could ever have. She always had a warm smile on her face," said Chris Weimert, 17, who took Ritzer’s geometry class last year.

Ritzer had a Twitter account that she updated with homework assignments for her class. In her biography, she wrote: “Math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.”

Her relatives said she had a passion for teaching and mentored each one of her students, the AP reported.

Mary Duffy, who has lived next door to the Ritzers in Andover since the family moved there more than two decades ago, said she had known Colleen Ritzer from the time she was a baby. Ritzer’s only ambition in life was to be a teacher, Ms. Duffy said.

“She was a very respected, loved teacher,” Blodgett said.

Ritzer’s former student, Chris, said he knew the suspect, Philip, from seeing him around school. Philip “seemed like a good kid,” Chris said. “It really threw the whole town of Danvers a curveball.”

Kyle Cahill, a junior at Danvers High School, said he knew Philip from the soccer team. The 14-year-old moved to Danvers from Tennessee before the school year started, and he was a top goal-scorer on the school’s junior varsity team, Kyle said.

“He wasn’t violent at all. He was really the opposite of aggressive,” Kyle said.

He said there was a soccer team dinner Tuesday night that Philip skipped, and team members had wondered where he was.

Philip’s name was not initially published because he is a minor. The defense attorney argued for the proceedings to be closed and her client’s name to stay hidden because of his age, but the judge denied the request.

Philip is being held without bail and is due back in court on Nov. 22.

Another teacher was shot in an unrelated incident at a Nevada middle school on Monday. Michael Landsberry was trying to talk down a 12-year-old student, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, when the student pulled the trigger, killing the teacher.

Both incidents occur nearly a year after a gunman opened fire on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 students and six adults. The Dec. 14 shooting sparked a nationwide gun-control debate.

All public schools in Danvers were closed on Wednesday, and students planned a candlelight vigil for Wednesday evening.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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