When news circulated Wednesday that Danvers High School mathematics teacher Colleen Ritzer had been found murdered outside her school, many reporters and many in the community quickly searched social media for information about Ritzer. That first instinct isn’t always helpful. Misleading fragments of information circulate all too easily when news is breaking. It’s never entirely certain who owns most Facebook or Twitter accounts. And in any case, a stream of status updates or 140-character comments can provide only so much insight.
And yet readers can infer quite a bit about Ritzer, 24, from the traces she left behind on the Internet. Even the handle she used on her Twitter account, @msritzermath, hinted at a dedication to teaching and to her subject. Her postings — homework assignments, inspiring quotes, a photo of a pumpkin with the pi symbol cut into it — were unwaveringly energetic and enthusiastic. Messages like these made Ritzer’s students feel supported; this they’ve made amply clear in grief-stricken postings of their own after her death.
The world of social media is often criticized for its ordinariness — for capturing countless little details of life in progress. But that’s what makes Ritzer’s postings so haunting now: They offer evidence of a life that was deeply meaningful to students and that’s now been needlessly and tragically cut short.