SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 24, 2013

'It could happen anywhere'

Area school leaders grapple with loss, focus on safety

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — The slaying of a young, dedicated math teacher at Danvers High, allegedly by a 14-year-old student, has left area schools grappling with how to address safety in the wake of yet another school tragedy.

“You never know,” said David Fabrizio, principal at Ipswich Middle School. “The shocking thing is you never know.”

Philip Chism, 14, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover. Police found blood in a school bathroom and her body in the woods behind the school. Authorities have not said whether a weapon was used, and if so, what type.

But schools have all kinds of dangerous materials that could be used to assault someone — including chairs, tools and knives used by custodians, Fabrizio said.

Art studios, woodworking and automotive shops, and kitchens would have lots of tools around that could be used as weapons.

“Every day, we try to make the school as safe as possible,” Fabrizio said. “We can’t make the world sterile.”

Salem Superintendent Stephen Russell said the school district is working with the director of maintenance and principals to make sure all safety and security protocols remain in the place. Some of the protocols include security cameras, buzzers at school entrances and securing materials that are considered dangerous, he said.

“I don’t know to what extent you can prevent such violent acts. We try our best every day to make sure our schools are safe,” Russell said.

“I am worried this same incident could happen anywhere. None of us are exempt,” he said.

Faculty in Salem held a moment of silence for Ritzer during an after-school meeting, he said. There was no formal discussion with students during the school day.

Russell said they’ve offered to help the Danvers School District with any counseling and support they may need. They released a statement saying, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to this teacher, her family, friends and colleagues. This is truly a time of profound grief and sadness in Danvers and among all of us.”

In Ipswich, Fabrizio said school officials decided not to announce the tragedy in school and leave the issue to parents to address at home.

“Our hearts go out,” he said. “To hear about this popular young teacher — it’s just awful. I feel bad for her, her family, friends and the entire Danvers school community.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.