SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 21, 2013

Boy, 14, indicted in death of Danvers High teacher

Julie Manganis
The Salem News

DANVERS — Nearly a month after Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer was killed, prosecutors have revealed grim new details about the moments before her death, a death they say came at the hands of a 14-year-old boy named Philip Chism.

Chism was indicted today by the Essex County grand jury not only on a first degree-murder charge, but for aggravated rape and armed robbery.

Prosecutors said in a press release announcing the indictment that Ritzer was sexually assaulted by Chism with an object, which was not identified. The charge is described as “aggravated rape” because it occurred during the course of the murder and robbery.

Prosecutors also allege that Chism used a box cutter to rob Ritzer of her iPhone, her credit cards and her underwear.

The exact cause of her death remains unclear. The state medical examiner’s office concluded that her death was a murder based on the nature of the injuries, but have not determined exactly which of those injuries killed her.

Prosecutors have not said where Ritzer was killed, though they have said that blood was found in a second-floor girls bathroom.

They have stressed that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Ritzer.

District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett described the crimes as “horrific and unspeakable acts.”

Ritzer’s family in Andover reported her missing when she did not return home from school on the evening of Oct. 22. Her body was found in a wooded area near Danvers High School, partially concealed by leaves.

The discovery of her body came following a search for both her and Chism, who was found walking on Route 1 in Topsfield. Chism gave a video-recorded interview to police, according to court documents.

Law enforcement sources have said Ritzer’s body was put into a recycling bin, and that school surveillance cameras captured Chism wheeling her out of the school.

Employees of a Danvers movie theater say Chism bought tickets for a late-afternoon showing of the film “Blue Jasmine” that day.

More details are expected to emerge tomorrow when the district attorney drops its objection to the release of search warrant materials, except for the names of minors who are witnesses. The materials include an affidavit that details what police knew about the crime and the reasons they sought to collect evidence at Chism’s Danversport home, as well as a list of evidence that was found.

He will face trial as an adult in the murder case; prosecutors say they expect to consolidate that with the two “youthful offender” rape and robbery indictments, which will require a hearing, and try all three charges together. An arraignment date has not been set, and Chism’s previously scheduled appearance in Salem District Court tomorrow morning was canceled at the request of his attorney earlier this week.

Chism is being held at a Department of Youth Services secure facility; his attorney has obtained funds to have him undergo a psychological evaluation by a forensic psychiatrist.

Denise Regan, Chism’s court-appointed attorney, declined to comment today.

“We are devastated and heartbroken by the details of the horrific circumstances surrounding the death of our beautiful daughter and sister, Colleen,” the Ritzer family said in a statement released this afternoon. “As a family, we continue to mourn Colleen’s passing and ask that the media respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.