It is a deadly tale of two missing people, one a beloved high school teacher in Danvers, Mass., and the other a 14-year-old soccer player who had just moved to the town from Tennessee. It is a tale that ends in blood and broken hearts in a section of the nation once known for colonial witchcraft trials.
Classes at Danvers High School won’t resume until Friday as people try to come to grips with the death of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher, who tried to be available to everyone at her school, some 20 miles north of Boston. On Thursday, Philip Chism was being held without bail, charged with murder. He appeared briefly in court Wednesday and is scheduled to return in November.
Authorities were still trying to piece the case together, but the criminal complaint filed in the case and sourced interviews with newspapers and television stations in the Boston area, shows a defendant who is accused of assaulting and beating the teacher to death. Ritzer was slashed with something, perhaps a box cutter, and her body left in the woods near the school, according to the reports, which include unnamed law enforcement officials who had questioned the boy and had seen surveillance videos from the scene.
The case enters the official police world when the Danvers Police Department posted on Facebook this request for information about a missing boy. “Philip Chism, a 14-year-old male who recently relocated to Danvers from Tennessee has been reported missing. He was last seen at the Hollywood Hits Cinema on Endicott St around 6:30 this evening.”
The theater manager told the Boston Herald that he believed Chism had bought a ticket to the 4:30 p.m. showing of the Woody Allen film,“Blue Jasmine.” Police told that paper and other news organizations that Chism most likely went to the movie after his fateful confrontation with Ritzer.
It was not clear when the pair had met, but the location seems to have been the second-floor restroom at the high school. Police believe Chism followed Ritzer into the restroom, attacked her and slashed her throat. They believe he stuffed her body into a recycling bin and took it to a wooded area near the school, law enforcement officials told journalists.
He was found about six hours later, walking north on southbound Route 1 near Salem Road in Topsfield, Mass., about six miles from the movie theater.
Ritzer was not officially missed until Tuesday night. Her family contacted authorities to report that she was missing at 11:17 p.m. The teacher had not returned home and was not answering her cellphone.
Investigating the case of the missing teacher, police went to the school and saw the blood trail leading to the restroom, authorities said Wednesday at a news conference. The surveillance video was viewed, and the investigation lead to the woods where the body was discovered.
Authorities questioned Chism on Wednesday morning, and he was arrested and taken to court in the afternoon. The criminal complaint alleges that Chism “did assault and beat” Ritzer, leading to her death.
“The juvenile was subsequently placed into custody and booked for murder,” according to the complaint. The Essex County District Attorney’s office said in a statement that it will seek a grand jury indictment for murder in the case. Under state law, murder suspects 14 years and older are treated as adults in the court system.