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Philip Chism accused of raping, killing Danvers High teacher

DANVERS — Prosecutors said Thursday that the 14-year-old student charged with killing Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer last month also raped her and robbed her of her cellphone, credit cards, and underwear before dumping her body in a nearby wooded area.

The new details were revealed in indictments handed up by an Essex County grand jury. It charged freshman Philip D. Chism with not only first-degree murder, but also aggravated rape and armed robbery in the slaying, which has stunned the small town and garnered nationwide attention.

“It’s unreal that [Philip] would do something like that,” Jessica DiPietro, 14, a freshman who was a student in one of Ritzer’s classes, said as she discussed the indictments outside the high school Thursday afternoon. “It’s unbelievable. I cannot even process into words why he would do something like that. It’s devastating.”


The new charges provided no insight into what might have motivated a teenager who was developing a positive reputation in his new high school to allegedly turn on Ritzer, a popular and enthusiastic 24-year-old math teacher.

Students have said that Ritzer asked Chism, who had just moved to the community from Tennessee, to stay after school on Oct. 22 in order to prepare for an upcoming exam. Prosecutors say Chism attacked her with a box cutter, raped and robbed her, and then dumped her body in an area behind the school.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation has told the Globe that surveillance footage from inside the school showed Chism pushing a recycling bin, which may have been used to transport Ritzer’s body, through the hall and outside the building.

“The indictments returned today detail horrific and unspeakable acts,” Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said in a statement Thursday. “This is the first step in a long process to secure justice for Ms. Ritzer and her family.”


Investigators believe that after abandoning the body — taking Ritzer’s credit cards, iPhone, and underwear with him — Chism walked to a nearby movie theater where he bought a ticket to an afternoon showing of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

“We are devastated and heartbroken by the details of the horrific circumstances surrounding the death of our beautiful daughter and sister, Colleen,” the Ritzer family said in a statement issued by a spokesman. “As a family, we continue to mourn Colleen’s passing and ask that the media respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”

An Essex County prosecutor stressed during a recent court hearing that there was no evidence that Ritzer engaged in any wrongdoing in her relationship with Chism.

According to authorities, Ritzer was reported missing to Danvers police at about 11:20 p.m. Oct. 22 when she did not return home and did not answer her cellphone.

Police found blood in a second-floor bathroom at the high school, prompting a search of the grounds and the discovery of her body shortly before 3 a.m.

Chism was picked up by police in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, when he was found walking north Route 1 in nearby Topsfield. He initially pleaded not guilty to a murder charge after his arrest that day.

Denise Regan, Chism’s court-appointed defense attorney, declined to comment on the indictments when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

Chism, a lanky teenager, was a standout on the school’s junior varsity soccer team and described by fellow students as quiet and amiable.


“I wish I could say that you could tell that [Philip] was someone who would do something like that, but I can’t,” said Andrew Poland, a 14-year-old freshman who was the same history class as Chism and was a student in Ritzer’s geometry class. “I don’t know what snapped in him to do this.”

Chism will face the murder charge as an adult, while his indictments on the rape and armed robbery charges were as a juvenile offender, and will initially be handled in Salem Juvenile Court.

An aggravated rape charge is brought when there is serious bodily harm to the victim, or when the rape was committed during another violent felony. Prosecutors have alleged that Chism sexually assaulted Ritzer with an object.

Chism is currently being held without bail in a Department of Youth Services facility.

More than 1,000 mourners attended funeral services for Ritzer held at Andover’s St. Augustine Church on Oct. 27. During the service, Ritzer was lauded for seeing “the goodness in other people’’ and as someone who considered teaching not just her job, but her calling in life.

Students at the high school remain shocked by the allegations, with some recalling Chism as a quiet student, who mostly kept to himself but did not show signs that he might be capable of violence.

“I just don’t know why he would do that,” said Alec Cianfrocca, a 15-year-old sophomore who was in Ritzer’s geometry class and was visibly upset as he discussed the charges outside of the high school Thursday afternoon. “I don’t like to think about it much, because it makes me upset.”


John R. Ellement and Steven A. Rosenberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.