DANVERS, MASSACHUSETTS — The 2013 horrific rape and murder of a 24-year-old algebra teacher working at Danvers High School appeared to have no motive. The suspect, then 14-year-old Philip Chism, was arrested soon after the discovery of Colleen Ritzer’s body, but as the trial date approaches, more information is being revealed including statements allegedly made by the Chism during a police interview.
According to documents, Ritzer had observed that Chism spent much of her algebra class doodling in a notebook and spoke to him about it. During the conversation, the teacher may have mentioned the word “Tennessee.” Chism had just moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee and according to witnesses, Chism seemed to find the word “Tennessee” upsetting.
Calling it a “trigger word,” reports say upon hearing the name of his former home, Chism became visibly distressed and began talking to himself. Chism is alleged to have said that the teacher “insulted” him, after which he bizarrely said, “I became the teacher.”
Surveillance footage from the high school shows Chism, wearing a hoodie and gloves, enter a school bathroom just after teacher Colleen Ritzer. Approximately 12 minutes later he left the bathroom alone.
Later surveillance footage shows the suspect returning to the bathroom and then leaving with a large recycling bin that authorities believe he used to transport Ritzer’s body to woods on the outskirts of the school.
Authorities have revealed gruesome details of the crime saying the teacher was sexually assaulted twice, including once with a stick. Her throat was slit with a box cutter, which was found along with Ritzer’s ID, credit cards and underwear in a backpack Chism was wearing at the time of his arrest.
Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy threw out a confession by Chism the night he was arrested. The judge said upon reviewing the tapes from that evening, he did not believe police followed proper Miranda Rights procedures. The judge did, however, rule the items found in Chism’s backpack admissible as evidence against him.
Chism, despite being just 14-years-old at the time of the crime, is being tried as an adult. His lawyers reportedly plan to use a mental health defense, saying the teen was stressed by his mother’s recent divorce as well as their move from Clarksville, Tennessee to Massachusetts.
Local legal experts were quoted in the New York Daily News as saying insanity defenses are rarely successful in the state of Massachusetts, but the teen’s age could factor into any final verdict.-TN