SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 24, 2013

Town tries to cope with murder of teacher

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Most children will return to classes today, but Danvers High School will remain closed as the community deals with the loss of a popular young teacher and the arrest of a student charged with her murder.

“Although classroom instruction will continue,” Superintendent Lisa Dana said in a message to parents, “I anticipate that the next few days will be particularly difficult.”

Danvers High will be open to students and families from 10 a.m. to noon today for those wishing to see a counselor or grief specialist. There will be an informational meeting for high school parents at 6:30 p.m. in the field house. Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette said a determination will be made tonight as to whether the high school will open tomorrow.

Dana would not take calls from a reporter.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis said the events have been overwhelming.

“You process it one small step at a time,” he said. “The enormity of it you can’t swallow all at once.”

Marquis said the town has a strong group of school officials. At present, the focus is on people, he said, starting with the family of the victim, math teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, then moving out to students and parents.

Administrators met with the high school staff yesterday at Smith School to provide what information they had, to give staff an opportunity to process what happened and to be with one another. Dana and Susan Ambrozavitch, who is both the high school principal and assistant superintendent, did a good job speaking with staff, and counselors were on hand, Marquis said.

Students, too, were reeling.

Danvers High senior Colin Butler woke to the news from his friends yesterday morning that school was canceled because his favorite math teacher had been killed — and the suspect was a 14-year-old student Butler passed by every day in the corridor.

At first, he thought his friends were messing with him, he said. But as reality set in, he joined senior Christian Veatch and freshman Spencer Wade in leaving a teddy bear and flowers at a makeshift memorial on the school lawn.

“No one would ever expect anything like this,” Butler said, “and it’s tragic that any student, faculty member, community member has to go through something like this. Wonderful lady, she will absolutely be honored and remembered. She was always the one to go out of her way for a student. It’s absolutely insane that a student would ever do something like this. You can’t even comprehend it.”

Spencer Wade said he was probably one of the last people to see Ritzer Tuesday afternoon, when she taught his last-period algebra class.

“There are no words to describe her,” he said, calling Ritzer “an excellent, loving math teacher who didn’t deserve this to happen to her.” Wade said Ritzer made an impact on him even though she was his teacher for only two months.

Spencer’s mother, Gail Wade, said Ritzer helped her son, who was struggling in math.

Butler said the slaying casts a pall on all that is good about Danvers High.

“For this to happen, it just casts a shadow over everything that is being accomplished and all that is great. Now the town has something to mourn over and something else to deal with,” he said.

The dedication of the new high school, scheduled for this Saturday, has been postponed.

The tragedy affected many outside the town, too.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner issued a statement of sympathy. “As we grieve for Colleen, we are doing everything we can to support students, fellow educators and parents,” he said.

A moment of silence was planned at Fenway Park as the Red Sox hosted the Cardinals for the first game of the World Series.

In Danvers, people were already looking to one another for strength.

“It’s beyond all of us,” said Christian Veatch. “... You stay strong together. Without other people, it would rip us all to pieces. The community can come together; that is the only way we can hold on.”

Colin Butler’s mother, Melissa Kennison, agreed.

“We will pull together; absolutely, we will pull together,” she said. “We are a solid community.

“But I think it’s shattering. It shatters your sense of community anytime anything like this happens. And you wonder why, and where does the anger come from?”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.