Friends: Slain Mass. teacher 'made everyone's life better' 


Friends of a Massachusetts math teacher found murdered early Wednesday remember Colleen Ritzer, 24, as caring and reflective. She always wanted to be a teacher.

Danvers High School freshman Phillip Chism, 14, will be tried as an adult for Ritzer’s murder. Her body was found just after midnight in the woods behind the high school. Ritzer’s friends Jennifer Berger, Dan Yanofsky and Meredith Davidson spoke to Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday.

“I just want people to know how special of a person she was,’’ Berger said. “She was my best friend in the whole world, and knowing her made my life so much better, and (she) made everyone’s life better.”

"She was just a young, caring girl who had the whole world ahead of her,’’ Ritzer’s uncle, Peter Martellucci, told TODAY’s Ron Allen. “And to be taken just so tragically, it's awful."

Chism, who had recently moved from Tennessee, is being held without bail and has pleaded not guilty. He was arrested based on video surveillance footage recovered from the school and interviews with police, according to the criminal complaint. No motive has been given, and Yanofsky said that he had not heard of a conflict between Ritzer and Chism.

“Of everyone I’ve ever known in my life, she is the last person I would think something like this could happen to because every report and every story that you read about how kind and gentle and caring she was, it was absolutely true,’’ Yanofsky said. “It wasn’t just painting a picture. That’s who Colleen was, and it broke my heart to know this could happen to her, of all people.”

"At this time we are mourning the tragic death of our amazing, beautiful daughter and sister,'' the Ritzer family said in a statement to TODAY. "Everyone that knew and loved Colleen knew of her passion for teaching and how she mentored each and every one of her students. We would like to ask everyone to respect our privacy at this most difficult time. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers."

On her Twitter page, Ritzer described herself as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.” On Pinterest, her bucket list included "having a daughter and naming her after her grandmother," visiting New York City at Christmas and seeing the famed pier in Santa Monica, Calif. On Facebook, she quoted Boston-area poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

“I don’t think she ever found a quote she didn’t like and that she didn’t want to share with people,’’ Berger said. “She was that person. She wanted not just to have that positivity for herself and for the people closest to her, but she wanted to share that with as many people as she could.

“She had so much to look forward to, and there were so many things that she should have been able to do, and it’s just not fair that she’s going to not be able to do all those things that she deserves. She’s that person who deserves every good thing in life.”

The Boston Red Sox honored Ritzer with a moment of silence before Wednesday night’s World Series game. Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil at Danvers High on Wednesday in her honor, and school was cancelled Thursday.

Ritzer, who was set to study for her master's degree and living with her parents in nearby Andover, had always wanted to be a teacher, according to her friends.

“I remember high school, when we were all going through college applications and deciding what schools we wanted to apply to,’’ Davidson said. “She always knew from day one she wanted to be a teacher...She’s such an inspirational person.”

“She was an inspirational leader,’’ Danvers High student Elizabeth Claveau told Allen. “She’s made such a big impact on so many of her students’ lives.” 

Ritzer was a 2011 graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. 

"The Assumption community will keep Colleen’s family members in its thoughts and prayers during this time of great sorrow and loss,'' Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo said in a statement.

"The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science deeply regrets the untimely passing of Colleen Ritzerm,'' professor Joseph Alfano, the former head of Assumption's department of mathematics and computer science, said in a statement to TODAY. "She was a talented student in math and education, a cheerful presence in and out of class, and a promising young alumna of Assumption College. We will miss her."

Chism's next court appearance is set for Nov. 22.