SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 23, 2013

Documents released in Danvers teacher's death

Police: Note reading 'I hate you all' found next to teacher's body

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — The handwritten note found next to Colleen Ritzer’s partially buried body said, “I hate you all.”

It was written, police and prosecutors say, by 14-year-old Philip Chism, one of Ritzer’s freshman math students at Danvers High School.

Court documents released yesterday revealed that and other details of Ritzer’s Oct. 22 death, allegedly at the hands of Chism, who is also charged with raping and robbing the popular young teacher.

She was found, partially clothed, her throat slashed, her body violated, and covered in leaves and debris, in a wooded area near the school.

What no one can answer at this point is why Chism was so angry, angry enough, apparently, to bring a box cutter, ski mask and gloves, and several changes of clothing to school with him that day, according to the court documents.

The only hint that Chism may have been angry or upset that day came in a report from a fellow student who told police about hearing a conversation between Ritzer and Chism after school. They started out talking about China, the student said, and Ritzer then mentioned Chism’s home state of Tennessee, something that “visibly upset” the boy. The student said Ritzer changed the subject, but the student later noticed Chism talking to himself.

Chism, two siblings and their mother, Diana, had just moved from Tennessee to Massachusetts, where they were staying in a basement apartment in the Danversport home of her aunt, Alisha Leck. Diana Chism told police that she and her husband were going through a “stressful” divorce.

Chism had joined the soccer team, and has been described by fellow students and school staff as quiet. Nothing, however, struck them as unusual about the tall, lanky teenager.

But within an hour of that meeting between the student and teacher, the court documents show, Chism followed Ritzer into a second-floor bathroom at the school, where, investigators believe, he used a box cutter to slash her throat.

The search warrant materials, including a detailed affidavit by state police Trooper Robert LaBarge, describe how Ritzer was seen speaking with another teacher in the hallway at 2:30 p.m., before returning to room A209.

Less than 20 minutes later, she left the classroom and walked to a student bathroom.

What the cameras saw

Chism is seen on surveillance walking out into the hall, back into the classroom, and then back out, this time wearing a hood over his head and putting on gloves. He walked into the bathroom a minute after Ritzer had entered.

It’s not known what transpired inside the restroom, where there are no cameras. But 11 minutes after Chism was seen entering the bathroom, another student walked in. She later told investigators that she saw a person with a bare, dark-colored “butt” leaning over and thought someone was changing clothing, so she backed out.

A minute later, at 3:07 p.m., Chism is seen in the video walking out, again wearing a hood.

Cameras around the school were watching as Chism walked toward the “B” wing of the school, then down a set of stairs and back into the “A” wing, to the student parking lot sidewalk.

Two minutes later, Chism walked back inside, wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He ran down a hallway toward the “D” wing, and back up to the second floor, then back into Ritzer’s classroom. A minute later he left wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. He was also carrying a backpack and two other bags, black and purple.

Five minutes later, the video showed Chism pulling a recycling barrel into the same bathroom. When he left the bathroom, he was wearing yet another outfit, a white T-shirt and now, a black ski mask, which at some point he pulled up onto his forehead while leaving the school through the “A” wing, pulling the recycling barrel.

Nearly half an hour later, at 4 p.m., Chism returned to the school, now barefoot, and went to his locker, where he put on a black shirt and a pair of glasses. He was carrying a pair of jeans and a backpack.

The affidavit said Chism made one more trip to the second-floor bathroom, where he spent about a minute before walking back out of the school.

Searching for student, teacher

The next place he was spotted was the Hollywood Hits theater off Endicott Street. He had purchased a ticket for a late-afternoon show, but it’s unclear whether he stayed for the entire movie. Investigators were brought to that location by cellphone “pings,” a means frequently used by law enforcement in missing persons cases.

Police found two cellphones, both of them smashed, in a wood pile. One was a Samsung phone that may have been Chism’s. The other was a broken iPhone. But neither Chism nor Ritzer could be found.

Chism was first reported missing by his mother at 6:34 p.m. She said she had gone to look for him at the school. Police began pinging his phone, and put out alerts on social media and through the town’s reverse 911 system.

As those alerts began to circulate, Danvers High principal Sue Ambrozavitch got a call from another math teacher, Sarah Giaquinta, who said that Ritzer’s parents, Tom and Peggie Ritzer, had called her and said Ritzer was missing.

Giaquinta was the first person to link the two missing people, and she was concerned.

Ambrozavitch, Tom and Peggie Ritzer and others began looking around the school, finding only Ritzer’s car in the lot.

Hours later, Topsfield police Patrolman Neil Hovey was on patrol when he spotted Chism walking north on Route 1 near Salem Road. During a pat frisk, Hovey discovered a knife.

At the police station, police looked through Chism’s backpack and found a blood-stained box cutter. Asked where the blood had come from, Chism said, “The girl.”

Chism was also carrying Ritzer’s credit cards and two driver’s licenses in her name. He said he had found them at a Stop & Shop in Danvers, then later said he’d taken them from her car, according to the documents.

Chism was also carrying a pair of women’s underwear, believed to be Ritzer’s.

He was handed over to Danvers police and arrested on a murder charge.

Hours later, Ritzer’s body was found.

The gloves Chism had been seen donning in surveillance video were nearby, now soaked in blood.

And there was the note, folded and left next to Ritzer’s body.

Investigators are still awaiting the conclusion of the medical examiner as to the precise cause of Ritzer’s death.

Chism remains in custody, and is being held in a Department of Youth Services secure facility without bail.

He is expected to be arraigned in Salem Superior Court on Dec. 4.

Prosecutors said they expect to try all three charges in Superior Court. The aggravated rape and armed robbery charges were brought under the state’s youthful offender statute, which allows them to be tried either in juvenile or superior court.

The search by police of Chism’s home led to the seizure of a computer, two memory cards and two USB drives, as well as some papers. The contents of those items was not detailed.

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