This story takes place at Danvers High School in Massachusetts in October of 2013.
On Tuesday, October 22, 2013 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer arrived at school dressed in a purple long sleeved shirt & black pants. It was “Buddies Day” & she was dressed the same as one of her friends & coworkers, Sarah Giaquinta. Colleen was a math teacher at Danvers High School. As she walked into the school that day, she carried her black Vera Bradley school bag & her purple lunch tote.
Who is Philip Chism?
Algebra was Colleen’s last class of the day and began shortly after 1pm. That day, Colleen noticed one of her new students, freshman Philip Chism, drawing & listening to music rather than paying attention to her lesson. A classmate who sat 2 desks away from Philip was interviewed at 5:36pm on October 23 & indicated that this wasn’t typical behavior for him; he rarely participated in class discussion though was a “really good student.” Philip had moved to Danvers with his mom from TN two months earlier after his parent’s divorce. He had moved around, living in various cities in TN & FL since he was in fourth grade. By a fellow classmate,
Philip was described as quiet & reserved but seemed normal. He didn’t drink or do drugs & he came from a good family. He was very athletic & excelled at soccer. He was described as shy though eventually warmed up to people & hadn’t seemed to be acting strangely. Some students did notice that he wasn’t as talkative or interactive as usual in the week leading up to this date. A student heard Colleen comment to Philip, “I didn’t know you could draw.” When the bell rang at 1:55pm that day, this same student heard Colleen say to Philip, “can you stay after with me?” wanting to speak with Philip after class had ended. A test was coming up & Colleen wanted to be sure Philip was ready. Colleen belonged to a group of teachers called the Freshman Team; they were to keep an eye on freshmen students in their classes, ensuring they were transitioning to HS with no issues.
Who is Colleen?
Colleen was the type of teacher that somehow managed to make algebra & geometry fun. Being only a few years older than some of her students, she used Twitter as a platform to share both homework assignments & send inspirational messages like, “Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.” Her Twitter profile description read, “Math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.”
Teaching was something that Colleen always wanted to do; she was very passionate about her work & dedicated herself to her students, often staying after school to provide extra support to those who needed it.
Colleen was born on May 13, 1989 in Lawrence, MA to parents Thomas & Peggie. She was the oldest of three children & had a younger brother & sister. Colleen graduated from Andover High School & then moved on to Assumption College to pursue her teaching degree where she graduated magna cum laude (koom loud-de) in 2011 & began working as a middle school teacher. Colleen then transferred to Danvers HS in 2012 while she worked on her Masters Degree at Salem State College; it was her dream to work with & help children with special needs. In her application to Salem State, Colleen wrote that she was dedicated to “helping students in times of need.” A friend & former colleague would say of Colleen, “she was energetic & compassionate. You couldn’t ask for more from a teacher or a friend. She cared about every single student & put in many hours after school every day, always thinking about how she could be better and better to help students. She was truly a beautiful person.”
Colleen was fortunate to be able to continue living with her parents in Andover, about 15 minutes from Danvers, allowing her to save money. Despite being at Danvers for only a year at the time of this story, she was very loved & respected at the school. Her ideal night included watching Home Alone for the hundredth time or staying in to watch a marathon session of Boy Meets World or Full House.
2 People Missing
On October 22, Colleen’s family became worried as evening approached & she hadn’t returned home. Colleen’s parents called Colleen’s friend & co-worker Sarah, asking if she had seen Colleen. Sarah & her husband headed to the school to check for Colleen. Her car was in the parking lot but there was no sign of her at the school. They decided to call the police at 11:20pm & report her missing.
Earlier in the day when extra curricular activities & sports were going on, the soccer coach noticed one of his players was absent; Philip Chism. Later in the evening, Philip’s mom became worried when he didn’t come home after soccer practice. Not having made many friends yet, she doubted he was out with anyone. Philip was not at all happy about the move from his hometown of TN; he wasn’t enjoying his time at Danvers, felt bullied & unhappy. He wasn’t answering his cellphone so at 6:34pm his mom, Diana called the police & reported 14 year old Philip missing.
At 9pm that night, the school principal sent an email to staff, informing them that a student was missing. A student’s mother recalled seeing Philip “running away” from the school at 3:30pm that day which was relayed to the principal at 6pm. Shortly after the email was sent, a fellow math teacher informed the principal that Colleen was also missing. The principal was told that Philp had been in Colleen’s last class that day. Being a minor, the police first turned their attention to the search for Philip. His phone was traced to a movie theater in Danvers. He had gone to a 4:30 showing of a Woody Allen movie, Blue Jasmine but was already gone by the time the police arrived. Police split their duties in half; some searched the streets while others began looking at the CCTV footage at the school & also searched the school & perimeter of the school. Colleen’s phone had pinged in the area of a local middle school.
In the girl’s bathroom closest to Colleen’s classroom, they found smears of blood. As police searched the perimeter of the school grounds, they found Colleen’s purse wedged between 2 boulders, it was mostly empty, missing her wallet, money, credit cards & cellphone.
Around 3am that morning, October 23, they found Colleen’s body under a pile of leaves. She was found in the supine position, naked from the waist down, covered in blood, dirt, scratches. Near her body, there was a handwritten note that read, “I hate you all.” About 100 feet away, down an embankment, a large trash bin & bloody gloves were found.
It was quickly concluded that Philip was involved in Colleen’s murder. Shortly after midnight, on October 23, a Topsfield police officer had gotten off duty & was heading home on a quiet, unlit, rural two lane road when he noticed a young male walking near a farmhouse. Finding this out of the ordinary, he called into the station to report the sighting. He was in Topsfield, about ten minutes from the school.
When officers arrived, they asked Philip where he was going, he answered, “nowhere.” When asked where he was coming from, he answered, “Tennessee.” When he was asked where he lived he told officers that he had no address. He was asked what was in the red Nike drawstring backpack he was carrying, he stated, “survival gear.” He was asked to empty the pockets of the black shorts he was wearing which contained 2 MA driver’s licenses, credit cards, an insurance card held together with a rubber band & a rock. The 2 driver’s licenses belonged to Colleen Ritzer; at this time, the responding officers were unaware of her name & that she was also missing. When the officer asked his name, he responded with “Philip Chism.” The officer was aware of this name as his daughter who also attended Danvers & let her dad know that Philip had been reported missing that day. When the officers asked Philip where he got these IDs & cards, Philip said he found them at Stop & Shop. When he was asked again where he got the cards, this time Philip answered, “from her car.” The officers then asked Philip to open the backpack where they found a white wallet containing a box cutter, blade still protruding with a reddish/brown substance on the blade, a Vera Bradley soft case, a blue Nike shirt, two rolls of tape, a set of keys, a white towel, a flashlight, a scuba diving knife, bloody women’s underwear. When they asked about the blood on the box cutter, he said, “it’s the girl’s.” His Miranda Rights were then read. It was noted that Philp’s clothing (sweatshirt & shoes) had brown/reddish stains similar to what was found on the box cutter. They had asked where “the girl” was & Philip indicated “in the woods.” They asked if the girl in the woods could be helped & he said no.
Earlier that day
After classes that day, a student recalls passing by Colleen’s classroom; she looked in & saw Colleen standing by her computer & Philip sitting in a chair about 10 feet away. Colleen looked over & smiled at this student. That day, Autumn, a student from another class came to Colleen’s class after school, not even for extra help but mainly to see her favorite teacher. Autumn was able to observe the interaction between Colleen & Philip & noticed that when Colleen asked Philip how Danvers compared to TN & how he liked the change, Philip became irritated. When Colleen also noticed, she quickly changed the subject.
About 2:20pm, Colleen’s close friend & fellow math teacher, Sarah, came by; she had just come from a meeting & wanted to update Colleen. The two stepped into the hall, then into a classroom across the way & finally finished their conversation in front of Colleen’s door. As Colleen did this, Philip & Autumn remained in the classroom, up near the white board. Philip asked Autumn if she wanted him to write her name in Japanese. The girl said yes & he did. Eventually Colleen came back to the classroom & they wrapped things up to head out/home for the day. Philip was due to be at soccer practice.
At 2:54pm on October 22, Colleen could be seen on school’s CCTV footage, leaving her classroom on the second floor & heading to the women’s restroom. Danvers HS had recently been renovated & had 140 motion detector cameras installed. As Colleen walked down the hall, you could see her smile & wave at someone in the distance, moments late footage showed Colleen entering the restroom. Colleen had initially tried the locked staff restroom though it was occupied. Seconds later, Philip followed out the door of the classroom, looking in both directions, as if to see if the area was clear. He then hesitated outside the door of the classroom, took a couple of steps in the direction Colleen had gone, though changed his mind, going back into the classroom. Moments later, he exited the classroom, this time with the hood of his blue sweatshirt up & headed Colleen’s way. As he walked toward the ladie’s room, he could be seen putting gloves on, a box cutter in the pocket of his jeans. As he approached the ladie’s room, he finished putting the gloves on, entering the restroom at 2:55pm. Philip came prepared to school that day; equipt with a face covering, gloves, a box cutter & a change of clothes. One side of the box cutter had the words, “Phil’s 1st tool” written on it & the other side read, “Don’t cut your arm off.” 11 minutes later, at 3:06pm, a female student entered the restroom, trying to find an area with a cell signal to call her dad & seconds later, she turned & exited.
This student saw what she thought was someone changing; an “exposed butt,” back to the door, clothes piled on the floor. About a minute & a half later, at 3:07pm, Philip could be seen exiting the bathroom. He went to change clothes, leaving the building for a short period, running through the halls at times. While a student’s mother waited for her daughter outside the school, she noticed Philip crouching by the shubs. At 3:10 pm, he entered Colleen’s classroom, exiting at 3:11 with three bags in tow, two belonging to Colleen & one to him & a red sweatshirt thrown over his head. He went down the stairs & less than a minute later, came back up, no longer holding bags, black face mask on, putting his red sweatshirt on. As he ran down the hallway where the classroom was, the face covering was off & Philip was putting it into the pocket of his sweatshirt, heading in the direction of the restroom. At the top of the stairs, just before approaching the restrooms, Philip quickly stopped & turned the other way, back toward the direction of the classroom/away from the bathroom. This was because a classmate & fellow soccer player was walking his way, talking to Philip who had walked/ran in the direction away from the bathroom as the student holding a soccer ball tried to speak with him, asking why he wasn’t heading down for soccer practice. It’s likely that Philip was fearful that Colleen was still alive & able to cry out for help.
Philip was then seen wheeling a large recycle bin into the restroom at 3:16pm, red sweatshirt on. As he left the restroom five-six minutes later at 3:21, bin in tow, his sweatshirt was off & he wore a head/face covering. He brought the bin containing Colleen’s body downstairs via the elevator & out of the school at 3:23, passing a man on the sidewalk as he walked his dog. He initially went around the school behind the fieldhouse near the athletic fields to get to the woods though found it was too steep & rocky. Another student noticed this as she sat out from track with an injury; she thought Philip worked for the school & was just getting rid of yard waste. He gave up & 7 minutes later, went back around the school to the other side to get to another part of the woods. At this point he was wearing gray canvas Nike shoes.
About 24 minutes later Philip could then be seen returning to the school, running through the parking lot & entering the first floor with no shoes on, just white socks. The shoes were later found in the woods, covered with blood. At the top of the stairs, at 4pm he was seen now barefoot, socks no longer on, blood soiled jeans & hands clearly visible.
At 4:01 he opened his locker on the third floor & headed to the men’s restroom on that floor, holding a bag. Once again he changed, now into his soccer clothes; a black hoodie, black shorts, barefoot & carrying his bloody jeans & t-shirts, wearing a drawstring backpack. At 4:04 he re-entered the 2nd floor restroom where he had attacked Colleen & exited at 4:06, heading back downstairs, still barefoot & exited the school. He then went back to the woods where he spent another 12 minutes doing God knows what. As he came back from the woods, he was then shown by the bushes, bent over tying his blue gym shoes. Next he walked past 2 boys that waited in the parking lot, stopping to interact with a boy he knew from church & youth group that was homeschooled but at the school for cross country. They had a normal conversation & Philip indicated that he hadn’t received his friend’s texts as he was out of minutes. He also told his friend that he would be at their youth group meeting Sunday. At 4:24 he came back into the school, walking in a calm/eerie way, even chewing on a snack from his backpack until about 4:30pm when he left the school for the last time.
Philip then went to BJs wholesale store where he is seen on CCTV walking around drinking a sports drink. He ended up stealing a scuba knife because of his lack of membership card. He then went to get food at Wendy’s & then to a local mall movie theater where he could be seen on CCTV footage; he purchased a ticket to see ‘Gravity’ though ended up watching a Woody Allen movie, Blue Jasmine. Philip purchased both the food & movie ticket using Colleen’s credit card.
What happened to Colleen?
When Philip entered the bathroom behind Colleen, he strangled her, sliced her neck two times with a box cutter & in total stabbed her at least 16 times with the box cutter, raped her & put her body into a trash bin. After bringing Colleen to the wooded area, he sexually assaulted her with a tree branch & posed her in a graphic way. It was later revealed that Colleen was likely still alive when placed in the wooded area though unconscious & likely died later from blood loss. Pathologist Anna McDonald said that there were two causes of death; asphyxiation which occurred first because the knife wounds to the neck were so severe it would have been too difficult to strangle Colleen after stabbing her. There were also 16 stab wounds to Colleen’s neck; three which hit major blood vessels. Pathologist stated it was possible she could have survived the strangulation had she not been stabbed.
Philip was tried as an adult in 2015 in Salem, MA due to the horrific nature of the murder. While in the youth facility awaiting trial, Philip attacked a female guard, using a sharpened pencil as a weapon. Thankfully other guards were able to step in, saving her from what he had done to Colleen. Surveillance video showed Philip following this guard into the locker room, carrying a pencil. The guard said he entered the locker room & began to strangle her. When she screamed for help, he began punching her though staff members were able to rush in & help to restrain Philip. Thankfully she was not seriously injured during the attack.
The trial concluded December 14, 2015 & philip was found guilty of first degree murder, aggravated rape & armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison with the eligibility for parole in 40 years when he is 56 years old. Colleen’s parents were very upset by the sentencing, believing that Philip should never be released from prison. Peggy, Colleen’s mom blames the state Supreme Judicial Court which ruled in December 2013 that juveniles could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole. Peggy Ritzer considers herself “so very broken.” She says she isolates herself from people she loves because pretending to be happy is so difficult. Of Philip, Peggy says, “He is pure evil & evil cannot be rehabilitated.” Colleen’s father Tom feels that he failed his daughter, “I didn’t protect Colleen. A dad’s job is to fix things. I would do anything if I could fix this for Colleen.”
The Saturday before Colleen’s murder, Colleen’s best friend remembers Colleen saying that the school year was a good one & she was enjoying teaching freshmen for the first time. One thousand people attended Colleen’s funeral. On game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox & Cardinals, a moment of silence was observed at Boston’s Fenway Park. Students were shattered by the loss of Colleen. One student said, “It’s surreal how quickly someone can go, and how much we take for granted everyday.”
October 22nd has become Kindness for Colleen Day when people are asked to perform good deeds in her memory. Days before that school year began, Colleen posted a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on FB, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
- New York Post: Teen ‘infatuated’ with murdered teacher
- Newsunzip: Who is Colleen Ritzer?
- YouTube: That Chapter: The Disturbing Case of Colleen Ritzer
- CNN: Caring, compassionate Massachusetts teacher was ‘brilliant ray of light’
- CNN: Teen followed Danvers teacher into bathroom, killed her with a box cutter
- YouTube: Law & Crime Network Philip Chism Trial
- CNN: Court papers detail horrifying final moments of Massachusetts teacher’s life
- Boston Globe: Official describes brutal injuries to Colleen Ritzer
- Wbur.org: Danvers Teen Who Killed Teacher Sentenced to Life With Chance of Parole
Leave a Reply