The Murder of Colleen Ritzer

Colleen Ritzer, 24, a math teacher at the Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts, was murdered in one of the high school’s bathrooms by one of her students, Philip Chism, 14. He had repeatedly stabbed her with a box cutter and raped her in the school’s bathroom before cutting her throat. She was then raped again after being dumped in the wooded area near the school.

The Disappearance of Colleen Ritzer

On October 22, 2013, Colleen Ritzer had been helping two students after school with their work. A ninth-grade student had been in Ritzer’s classroom to get extra work. The student had overheard the conversation between Ritzer and the other student in the room, Philip Chism. They had been talking about China before Ritzer brought up Chism, moving from Tennessee to Massachusetts. The student noticed Chism became very agitated. It appeared Ritzer also noticed Chism’s behavior, as she quickly changed the subject. After a few minutes, Ritzer excused herself to go to the restroom. The high school’s security cameras caught Ritzer walking to the bathroom. This is the last reported siting of Colleen.

Bathroom with evidence markers Photo: David Sokol

Tom and Peggie Ritzer had expected to see their daughter, Colleen. When she did not show up, they became worried. They called a fellow teacher, Sarah Giaquinta, and told her Colleen was missing. The Ritzer’s and faculty searched the building but could not locate Colleen. Her vehicle was in the parking lot, but her personal effects were missing from her classroom. The Ritzer’s contacted the authorities to file a missing person’s report.

Investigators requested a “ping” of Colleen Ritzer’s cell phone. They identified her last known location as being near Holten Richmond Middle School, directly next door to Danvers High School.

Philip Chism is Reported Missing

At the same time her family filed a missing person’s report for Ritzer, Philip’s mother, Diana Chism, also reported him missing. She told the police he had not come home from school, so she went to the school to look for him. She could not locate him on the school grounds.

Philip Chism

Later that evening, Sue Ambrozavitch, Principal of Danvers High School, sent out a mass email to the faculty to inform them Philip Chism had been reported missing. A parent contacted her and stated that she saw Philip Chism running from the high school complex. Sue gave this information to the police.

The Timeline of Movements of Colleen Ritzer and Philip Chism

On October 22, 2013, the newly installed security system of the Danvers High School captured the following movements of both Colleen Ritzer and Philip Chism. The Danvers Police Department reported the following timeline of events in the Chism Affidavit for a Search Warrant. Additionally, the last frames of the footage showed traces of blood on Philip Chism’s clothing.

With the assistance of the school faculty, the female student who had entered the bathroom was identified. Detectives questioned her and learned that she had stepped into the bathroom to call her father. She noticed a bare buttock and a small pile of clothes. She had thought that she had interrupted someone changing their clothes, so she quickly left the bathroom.

Philip Chism is Located

At 12:30 a.m. on October 23, the Topsfield, MA Police Department received a tip that a teenager was seen walking along Salem Road and requested a welfare check. When officers located the subject, they immediately recognized him as Philip Chism, from the missing person’s report. The officers noticed he had blood on his hands, so they took him into custody. A search of his backpack yielded a bloody box cutter. When officers asked where the blood had come from, Chism responded “the girl”. They also located several credit cards and a driver’s license belonging to Colleen Ritzer. The officers transported to the Danver’s Police Department.

Colleen Ritzer is Found

On the morning of October 23, 2013, police discovered the body of Colleen Ritzer in a wooded area adjacent to the school complex. Chism had placed her body in a subjective pose. She was lying on her back with her legs bent at the knees. She was not wearing any clothing on her lower body. Chism had pulled her shirt up and pulled her bra down, which exposed her breasts. She had a one-inch in diameter, three-foot-long bark tree branch inserted in her vagina. Chism had also cut her throat.

Masachusetts State Trooper Michael Perry holding the stick that was admitted into evidence Photo: David Sokol

In the immediate area, investigators located a recycle bin (resembling the one from the security footage), bloody gloves, clothing, and other personal effects determined to belong to Colleen. Investigators also recovered a handwritten note near Colleen’s body that read, “I hate you all.”

Following Philip Chism’s Arrest

Philip Chism was arrested on October 23, 2013, for the murder of Colleen Ritzer. A judge ordered him to be held without bond.

Detectives interviewed Diana Chism, Philip’s mother. They hoped she could offer any information about the family’s background or identify any struggles Philip may have been going through. Diana told detectives that she and her three children had moved to the Danver area and were living in an apartment in her aunt’s house. Diana shared she was going through a difficult and stressful divorce.

Detectives had formed the theory that Philip had planned the murder because he came to school that day with a box cutter, ski mask, gloves, and several changes of clothes.

One of the bags Philip Chism discarded in the woods

Chism disclosed the location of his and Ritzer’s cell phones during an interview with detectives. Police located them near the Hollywood Hits Movie Theater.

On June 2, 2014, while awaiting trial at the Metro Youth Services Facility in Boston, MA, Chism attempted to strangle a female Department of Youth Services worker as she came out of the bathroom. He reportedly also struck her in the face and head with his fist multiple times. She screamed for help and stop the attack. Police arrested Chism and charged him with attempted murder by strangulation, and assault with intent to murder. He incurred two additional charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, which was the pencil that he attempted to stab her with. A judge sent him to Worcester State Hospital for a mental health evaluation due to psychotic symptoms.

The Court Proceedings of Philip Chism

The Commonwealth v. Philip Chism, Youthful Offender – Findings of Fact and Rulings of Law on Defendant’s Motion to Suppress is a very lengthy document that explains the specific points, evidence, and movement in the case’s investigation. You can find this document here.

A judge denied Chism’s motion to suppress.

Philip Chism in Court Photo: Ken Yuszkus

A jury found Philip Chism guilty on February 26, 2016. He was given a life sentence with parole eligibility in 25 years.

Chism is serving his sentence at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, MA.

The Aftermath

The funeral mass for Colleen Elizabeth Ritzer was held at St. Augustine Church in Andover, MA on October 28, 2013. She was laid to rest in the Spring Grove Cemetery in her hometown of Andover, MA.

Colleen Ritzer's headstone Source: FindAGrave

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