Colleen Ritzer was killed in cold blood in one of the school’s bathrooms.
In the last recorded footage of popular teacher, she’s walking down the school corridor with a smile. Surveillance cameras show Colleen, 24, waving to someone out of sight before heading into the toilets. She would never come out alive.
Moments after Colleen entered the bathroom, 14-year-old student Philip Chism followed her in. He brutally raped the young teacher and stabbed her to death, before stuffing her body into a recycling bin and wheeling her out to a shallow grave in nearby woods.
The case deeply shocked America for so many reasons, but the real tragedy for her loved ones was her killer’s motive. Colleen had been murdered for trying to help a student – the very reason she had been so admired.
It had been a dream for Colleen to be a teacher and she was in her second year of teaching maths at Danvers High School, in Massachusetts. Her enthusiasm to help young people with their learning was boundless. On her social media she referred to herself as a ‘Maths teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching’, and she thought nothing of staying late.
She was respected by her colleagues and adored as a positive role model for her pupils. Colleen would try to motivate them with inspirational quotes including: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
Colleen had found her calling in life, but Philip had already lost his way. After his parents’ divorce, he’d moved from Clarksville, Tennessee, to start at the school. As was Colleen’s way, she wanted to help him.
Colleen’s final moments were caught on CCTV as she walked through the corridor
During an algebra lesson on October 22, 2013, she noticed Philip was doodling and asked him to stay behind after school. Colleen wanted to check he was settling in well and asked him how his old town compared. A witness would later say that Philip became agitated on hearing the word ‘Tennessee’ – and sensitively, Colleen changed the subject.
Colleen then left to use the bathroom. Cameras captured her walking down the hall between lockers with a smile on her face, before entering the bathroom. Footage also revealed that Philip came out of the classroom with his hood up. Outside of the female toilets, he paused to pull on gloves then went in.
Philip attacked Colleen with a box cutter. He raped her, strangled her and stabbed her at least 16 times. When he left the bathroom about 12 minutes later, he was holding Colleen’s black trousers and had blood on his hands.
After fetching a large black bin, he stuffed Colleen’s body inside and wheeled it out into the hallway. No one thought twice as he rolled it outside to nearby woodland. After further sexually assaulting her body he took her wallet and left her in a shallow grave. Philip changed out of his clothes and went to the cinema where he watched the film Gravity – paid for with Colleen’s credit card.
Chism dragged Colleen’s corpse to nearby woods
Colleen’s family were worried when she didn’t come home. Her dad Thomas went to the school and found her car and walked through the very areas where Philip had just wheeled his dead daughter.
Within hours, police found Colleen’s half-naked body. A note nearby read: “I hate you all.” Her throat was so deeply cut that her vertebra had been nicked with the blade. Officers picked up Philip as he walked along a local highway.
In his backpack was a box cutter, gloves and his clothes, all covered in blood. When asked by police whose blood it was, he replied, “It’s the girl’s.”
In custody, Philip allegedly confessed. He said that Colleen had used a trigger word that set him off, but wouldn’t reveal what it was. It’s suggested the word was ‘Tennessee.’
Philip added that: “After she insulted me, that’s when I became the teacher.”
As Philip hadn’t been told his constitutional rights, a judge determined his statement couldn’t be heard in court. But there was plenty of damning evidence.
Philip was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison.
“The crashing waves of this tragedy will never wane,” said Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy. Philip will be held in the juvenile system until he’s 18 then transferred to an adult prison.
Incredibly, it was revealed that Philip awaits further charges after attacking a female youth worker in June 2014 while awaiting trial. He’s accused of following her into a locker room and choking her until colleagues intervened.
No one will ever forget Colleen’s horrific death, but her family are fighting hard to make a legacy of her life. They’ve set up a scholarship for students wishing to follow a career in education and use a motto that Colleen tweeted just weeks before her death: “Every day might not be good, but there is something good in every day.”
Below is a video showing how Philip followed Collen into the bathroom to commit the act and then stormed out with her trousers.