, Salem, MA

October 28, 2013

Our view: Offering comfort when no answers can be found

The Salem News

---- — Sometimes, there are no answers to why terrible things happen. When one cannot offer answers, comfort must suffice.

And so it is with the death of Colleen Ritzer, a dedicated young Danvers High School teacher from Andover just starting out in life. Prosecutors have charged a 14-year-old student, Philip Chism, with her murder.

So far, there has been no explanation of what might have motivated Chism to commit the crime of which he is accused. But whatever motive emerges as the case progresses — anger, fear, greed — it will not be sufficient.

How can the mere experience of an emotion justify the dreadful act of taking a life?

It is human nature to seek to understand, to find a reason that explains the seeming randomness of life. Surely, all who have read or heard about this crime are wondering, “Why?”

The family of Colleen Ritzer is facing these most difficult of questions amid their grief, the Rev. Peter Gori told Andover Townsman Editor Sonya Vartabedian. Gori is the pastor of St. Augustine Parish, which has been the spiritual home of the Ritzer family for years.

Gori told Vartabedian that it’s impossible to make sense of the “horrible, sad, painful loss.”

“I wish you could, but you can’t. It’s bigger than our ability to make sense of,” Gori said. “It’s just totally wrong by every civilized standard and every drive there is.”

Where reason fails, faith must endure.

Gori visited the Ritzer family to offer comfort in their time of need.

“I let them know they were in our prayers and our compassion,” Gori said. “If anything, what can make a terrible situation worse even is thinking you are alone in this. To be present for people suffering like this is a source of strength. ... It’s more important for them to be surrounded by love and caring that’s soothing for her parents and brother and sister.”

We join in those prayers and offer our condolences to Ritzer’s family and friends.

The loss of the 24-year-old math teacher is deeply felt by all who knew her. Ritzer’s students and friends describe her as a dedicated teacher who made learning what many find a difficult subject fun. She was known for her cheerful, positive outlook and willingness to help.

Jenna Glazier, a 16-year-old junior and former student of Ritzer, speaking at a candlelight vigil in Danvers Wednesday, remembered her as a generous, dedicated and helpful teacher who often told students, “Yay proofs!” in reference to a mathematical exercise that some begrudged.

“She just always had a huge smile on her face, and she was always willing to help everyone,” said Kelsey Brooks Jr., a 16-year-old junior.

Best friend Jennifer Berger remembered Ritzer as an “amazing person who loved life.” The two friends had attended school together from the elementary level through their graduation from Andover High in 2007.

“She was so kind and caring,” Berger told reporter Bill Kirk. “She could find joy in the littlest things in life. If she was having a bad day, she would find a quote from a song that would turn it around.”

Gori calls on us to celebrate those qualities of Colleen Ritzer’s life and cultivate them in ourselves.

“She knew what she was doing and was very genuine about it and dedicated and willing to help others,” he said. “Hopefully, she will still inspire us — even in the midst of this horror of her death — to do what we can to be the best that we can in service to others.”