NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 23, 2013

Teen charged with first-degree murder in teacher's death

Julie Manganis
The Daily News of Newburyport

DANVERS —

A Danvers teen was arraigned on a charge of first degree murder this afternoon in the slaying of a 24-year-old Danvers High School math teacher.

Philip Daniel Chism, 14, had a plea of not guilty entered on his behalf in the death of Colleen Ritzer, of Andover.

Salem District Court Judge Matthew Nestor ordered Chism held without bail, pending a probable cause hearing next month.

Court documents released after the hearing offer few new details, and do not confirm exactly how Ritzer was killed.

However, the report filed with the court does say that the case started as two missing persons reports  on Tuesday night. 

Danvers police were already looking for Chism, who had recently moved to the area from Tennessee, according to a Facebook post last night by the police department, when they received a report that Ritzer had not returned home from work and was not answering her calls.

District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said this morning that a search of the school turned up a large amount of blood in a second floor bathroom at the school, and that Ritzer's body was subsequently found in a wooded area behind the school.

Chism was located walking along Route 1. During an interview with the suspect and reviews of school surveillance footage, it was determined that the boy had killed Ritzer and disposed of her body near the grounds of the high school.

Chism was a student at the school.

The documents offer no motive for the slaying.

The defendant's family members and two public defenders left court without commenting on the allegations. Defense lawyer Denise Regan told reporters that she still has little information about the case.

But she may have given an indication of her likely defense when she filed a motion seeking funds for a mental health evaluation of Chism.

Regan also cut off the prosecution's attempt to provide additional details about the case in court, telling the judge she would agree to have Chism held without bail rather than have details of the case disclosed publicly.

A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Nov. 22, but it is expected that the case will be presented to a grand jury for indictment prior to that proceeding.