The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 26, 2013

Teacher killer defendant's mom says her 'heart is broken'


CNHI News Service

DANVERS, Mass. — The mother of the Danvers High School freshman charged with the grisly murder of his math teacher says her "heart is broken" for the victim's family, that she is "struggling to understand" the situation and that she loves her son.

Diana Chism, mother of murder defendant Philip Chism, 14, expressed her sentiments Saturday through her son's court-appointed attorney, Denis Regan. It was the family's first response to the slaying of beloved teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, in a second-floor girls bathroom at the high school after classes Tuesday.

"On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever," said attorney Regan on behalf of the mother. "Ms. Chism's heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister. Ms.  Chism would like  you to know that her son was born in love and is deart to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully ask for some time to process this."

The statement continued: "She ask that you know that she cares for the world's hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy."

The son is charged in adult court with killing the teacher with a box cutter, placing her bloody body into a recycling barrel and wheeling it out of the school, then dumping it in a wooded area next to the school and covering it with leaves. NBC News reported Saturday that an investigator told the network Ritzer's throat was slashed from behind. The youth has pleaded not guilty.

The murder occurred after classes were dismissed for the day and following a special tutoring session the teacher had given the student defendant. A school surveillance camera captured Chism following Ritzer into the bathroom and later wheeling the recycling barrel down the hall and out of the school, his clothes bloodied.

No one apparently witnessed the surveillance camera details. Ritzer's family reported to the school at 11:20 p.m. that she had not returned home yet, and a search of the premises turned up blood in the bathroom and her body in the woods about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The student had also been reported missing by his family, and police found him at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday walking along a state highway (Route 1)  in the neighboring town of Topsfield. He'd changed clothes and bought a ticket to the Woody Allen film "Blue Jasmine" at the Hollywood Hits movie theater in Danvers. The theater manager said Chism was the only patron in the theater and left after the movie ended at 6:15 p.m.

State Police searched the scene of the murder, the woods where the victim's body was found and the defendant's home in Danvers under a court-issued warrant, but a judge sealed the details of what was discovered. Search warrant details are normally considered public record in Massachusetts.

“The motion (to seal) actually contains some of the sensitive information we didn’t want released,” said Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

“The affidavit in support of our motion contained information that may be prejudicial to the defendant,” she said, adding that the documents “may contribute to the increased psychological and emotional distress of the victim’s family and others. It also contains names of witnesses which we have not had an opportunity to call before the grand jury.”

Prosecutors and the attorney for the defendant were advised that several news outlets plan Monday to challenge the judge's order sealing the search warrant details on the basis of the public interest in the information. A similar challenge to search warrant details in former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez's murder case was successful recently.

Meanwhile, additional details emerged about the defendant, who moved with his mother and two younger sisters to Danvers, a north of Boston suburb, in July from Clarksville, Tenn., which is north of Memphis.

Students at Danvers High and acquaintances in Clarksville described the teenager as quiet and mild-mannered. An uncle in Tennessee told the Boston Globe he was sure authorities "probably have mistaken identity."

The defendant's parents filed for divorce in 2001, when Chism was two years old, but the case was never completed. The mother's filing accused her husband of "physical abuse, sexual abuse, or a pattern of emotional abuse" and adultery.

Funeral services were held for the slain teacher Sunday in her hometown of Andover, Mass. She was recalled as a devoted math teacher who was pursuing a master's degree in student counseling and cared dearly about her students.

The teacher's family announced a scholarship fund in her name to benefit Andover High School graduates who study in college for a career in teaching.

"We are simply overwhelmed by the many generous offers of so many who wish to support a lasting legacy for Colleen," the Ritzer family said in a statement. "This scholarship fund is an appropriate way to honor Colleen's tireless and dedicated work to puruse such a worthy and rewarding profession."

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Details for this story were provided by the attorney for the murder defendant, NBC News and The Salem News.