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October 25, 2013

After tragedy, community unites to heal

Principal calls for students to return to Danvers High

DANVERS — Hundreds of Danvers High School parents were mostly hushed, last night, as Principal Susan Ambrozavitch explained what happens in the aftermath of the murder of 24-year-old math teacher Colleen Ritzer, the victim, allegedly, of a 14-year-old student.

Ambrozavitch outlined procedures for easing student fears, while urging they come back to class today — not Monday — and find “whatever our new definition of normalcy is.” The parents gave her enthusiastic support, bursting into spontaneous applause at several points. Anyone looking for answers as to why Philip Chism has been charged with the murder, however, was disappointed.

Police Chief Neil Ouellette explained, “At this point we can’t speak. ... We could jeopardize the case and that’s something we won’t do. ... The information will come out eventually.” He did say the school’s technology “weighed in heavily on the investigation,” perhaps a reference to closed circuit cameras.

Students can still expect police questions, Ouellette said. “As investigations roll forward it’s not uncommon for somebody to remember something. ... The goal here is to get to the bottom line, to get to the truth.”

The chief pointed to the presence of NEMLEC (Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council) officers trained to deal with traumatic situations, particularly in schools, as a sign students needn’t fear returning. Nevertheless, there were those who demanded to know what changes would be made to insure the horror isn’t repeated.

“I know my son won’t feel safe,” someone called out.

That brought forward Wilmington police Lt. Scott Sencabaugh, a member of NEMLEC, who praised Danvers officials. “We can tell you right off the bat — this isn’t lip service ... they’re top notch people.” With Ouellette, he stressed that the building is safe.

Yet when it comes to an event like the death of Colleen Ritzer, Sencabaugh indicated, it’s difficult even in retrospect to see what should have been done. “You can’t explain it,” he said. And for the future, “You try to do everything you can, folks. But these aren’t prisons. They’re schools. And kids come here to learn.”

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