Student pleads not guilty in Massachusetts teacher murder

Philip Chism, the 14-year-old charged in the murder of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer, appeared in court Wednesday. He has been charged as an adult and is being held without bail. 

AP Photo/ Bizuayehu Tesfaye
Parents and Danvers High School students hold candles during a vigil to mourn the death of Colleen Ritzer, a math teacher at the school, on Wednesday in Danvers, Mass. Danvers High School student Philip Chism, 14, was charged with killing her. He pleaded not guilty.

Massachusetts authorities on Wednesday charged a 14-year-old high school student in the murder of a math teacher after finding the teacher's body in woods near the school.

The student, Philip Chism, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and was ordered held without bail in a brief proceeding at Salem District Court, according to the clerk's office.

Chism has been charged as an adult, which could subject him to a longer prison sentence in an adult facility if he is found guilty of killing Colleen Ritzer, 24.

Massachusetts law allows people as young as 14 to be charged as adults when the crime is murder.

Police in Danvers, Massachusetts, began an investigation late on Tuesday after receiving calls that a student at the school and a teacher had not gone home, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters on Wednesday.

After discovering blood in a second-floor bathroom, police extended their search to the woods behind the school, where they found Ritzer's body.

"It was apparent that she was a homicide victim," Blodgett said. "This is a terrible tragedy."

Prosecutors said in court papers that an interview of Chism and surveillance video from the school showed that Chism murdered Ritzer and dumped her body behind the school.

Chism stood quietly, stooping slightly and dressed in a white shirt as he was charged on Wednesday.

Ritzer is the second U.S. educator this week to die in an incident involving a student after a Nevada middle school teacher was shot dead by a 12-year-old student on Monday.

Investigators from the local medical examiner's office on Wednesday carried a stretcher out of the woods where Ritzer's body was found.

Police on Tuesday had issued a missing-child report for Chism, who had recently moved to the area from Tennessee. A photo posted on the Danvers Police Department's Facebook page at the time of the search showed a tall, lanky, short-haired Chism wearing a red and black soccer uniform.

He was found walking along a highway about 12:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday (0430 GMT).

Students from the school left bouquets of flowers, a teddy bear and a note reading "Rest in peace, Ms. Ritzer, you will be missed" in front of the school.

Schools closed 

All public schools in Danvers, which is about 20 miles (32 km) north of Boston, were closed on Wednesday, although police believed there was no continuing threat to public safety.

"We have no reason to believe there were any other suspects involved," Blodgett said. He declined to comment on how Ritzer was killed or if she might have had any type of relationship with the student.

Ritzer's family issued a brief statement to The Salem News asking for privacy.

"At this time we are mourning the tragic death of our amazing daughter and sister," the family said. "Everyone that knew and loved Colleen knew of her passion, her teaching and how she mentored each and every one of her students."

Ritzer described herself as a "Math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching" on her Twitter account, @msritzermath, where she also posted homework assignments and links to math problems.

In the shooting incident in Nevada on Monday, teacher Michael Landsberry, 45, was shot and killed when he tried to stop the 12-year-old student armed with a handgun after he wounded two fellow students, then later turned the gun on himself.

"We will probably never know all the factors that accumulate to unleash this kind of violence, but we must commit to doing all we can to make sure students and educators are safe in our schools," Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, a labor union for school teachers, said in reaction to this week's incidents.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Gunna Dickson and Cynthia Osterman)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.