Teen pleads not guilty to rape, murder of high school math teacher
SALEM, Mass. — Philip Chism, 14, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder, aggravated rape and robbery charges in connection with the killing of his high school math teacher, Colleen Ritzer.
The Massachusetts teenager is accused of killing Ritzer, 24, on October 22 in the girls’ bathroom of Danvers High School with a box cutter he had taken to school.
In Wednesday’s Superior Court hearing, Chism — wearing khakis, a blue sweater, a white shirt and tie — was ordered held without bail; his next court date was set for 2 p.m. on January 30. During the 11-minute hearing, he sat quietly, his hands cuffed in front of him.
According to a police affidavit unsealed last month, a ninth-grade student told investigators that Chism became visibly upset when Ritzer spoke after class on the day of the crime about his home state of Tennessee.
When Ritzer noticed that Chism was upset, she changed the subject, said the unidentified student, who described Chism as “talking to himself.”
The affidavit includes testimony from witnesses as well as a school video surveillance timeline showing Chism and Ritzer in the same area of the school during the teacher’s final moments.
In the video, Ritzer appears to enter a second-floor girls’ restroom — apparently a faculty restroom was occupied — and Chism, wearing gloves and red sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, appears to enter the restroom about a minute later, according to the affidavit.
Shortly after, a female student enters the bathroom and then quickly walks out, according to the court papers. She told investigators she saw the back of a person who appeared to be changing clothes; the person’s rear was exposed, with clothes piled on the floor.
The video shows Chism leaving the restroom, returning later with a recycling barrel, and again leaving the restroom pulling the barrel — this time with a black mask on his forehead, the court papers say. He pulls the barrel outside the building and toward the student parking lot. Investigators said the video shows what appear to be blood stains near the bathroom and on Chism’s pants.
After Chism was reported missing by his mother on the evening of October 22, police had his cellular phone company “ping” the location of his phone. The phone was found to be in the vicinity of the Hollywood Hits Theater, where investigators learned the teen had purchased a movie ticket and then left.
The affidavit said that, when Chism was spotted by a police officer the next day, he was carrying a knife; a search of his backpack turned up a bloodstained box cutter. Asked where the blood came from, Chism allegedly responded: “The girl.” He was also allegedly carrying credit cards and driver’s licenses belonging to Ritzer, as well as a pair of woman’s underwear.
The armed robbery indictment alleges that Chism robbed Ritzer of credit cards, an iPhone and her underwear.
Police discovered Ritzer’s body in a wooded area near the school, covered with leaves and debris in an apparent attempt to conceal it, the court papers said. Her throat was slit.
The green recycling bin seen in the surveillance video was found 20 yards from the body. Clothing and other belongings were scattered near the body, along with the blood-soaked gloves Chism appeared to have been wearing in the video. The handwritten “I hate you all” note was folded near her body, according to the documents.
Investigators used the affidavit to secure a warrant to search Chism’s home.
Chism’s mother, Diana, told investigators that she had recently moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee amid a “stressful divorce” from the teen’s father.
Documents filed 12 years ago in a Tennessee court shed light on a troubled relationship. The court papers showed that Chism’s father agreed during a separation from his mother to have restricted time with his son, who was then 2, because of “prior physical and emotional abuse as well as alcohol abuse.”
Chism’s uncle, Terrence Chism Blaine, told CNN that the boy’s parents are separated and that the father — a former military man — lives in Florida.
On the aggravated rape and armed robbery indictments, Chism was charged as a youthful offender, but prosecutors said they would move to join those charges with the murder case in Superior Court.