Coleen Ritzer

Coleen Ritzer

It is little known–and little considered–that every kind of crime occurring in the world in general also occurs in schools, which are essentially communities unto themselves.  In my teaching career I’ve been threatened, my vehicle has been vandalized, I’ve been the victim of thefts, and I’ve seen other teachers assaulted–several times I’ve stopped assaults in progress on fellow teachers–and victimized in just about every way one can imagine.  My experience is not unusual.

Let’s review a bit of reality, very real to the friends and relatives of young Coleen Ritzer, a dedicated teacher raped and murdered in a school bathroom by one of her students. I ended my first article on Ritzer with this:

Coleen Ritzer deserved better.  Every teacher, female or male, deserves better.  They deserve the chance for life that a concealed weapon gives them, a chance most have virtually everywhere but school grounds.  They deserve the right to make that choice, unencumbered by the political whims of those that do not have their interests–or their lives–at heart.

My next article on the Ritzer case noted: 

When horrific crimes of this sort occur, people are dumbstruck.  ‘Why would anyone do that?  What was their motive?’  At such times, I do my best to explain, but most people simply can’t process the explanation.  It’s just too frightening to accept because reality does not provide them protection.  There is nothing they can do to magically ward off that kind of evil, to render them selves immune.  People want to believe that they won’t be attacked, raped with a tree branch and slashed to death in a bathroom.  The truth is, there is no shield against criminal attack, only precautions and means of defeating it.

Philip Chism: The Face Of Evil

Philip Chism: The Face Of Evil

Why did Chism do it?  The police have several theories: he wanted Ritzer sexually, but she rebuffed him.  He was afraid if he failed her math class, he couldn’t play soccer.  These are both plausible theories, but they explain little.  Millions of kids have crushes on attractive teachers.  Millions of kids fail a class and are temporarily prevented from participating in athletics or other school activities.  They don’t brutally rape and murder anyone.  What makes Chism different from the overwhelming majority of 14 year-olds–or adults, for that matter–that deal with such stresses every day without resorting to violence?

Often, criminals act for no reason other than that they want to do it.  Rapists like to rape, to beat, torture and hurt their victims.  They derive immense pleasure from their acts.  Even burglars, thieves and non-violent criminals act because they enjoy what they do, even deriving a kind of sexual thrill.  They often think themselves smarter, more cunning than others.  They may think themselves superior, possessed of a kind of insight others lack, but ultimately, they do it because they want to do it and they like it. 

It’s just that simply, and that horrific, as I explained in the third article of the series:

Chism, who had been asked to stay late by Ritzer to help after school, allegedly followed her into a bathroom shortly before 3 pm on October 22 and attacked her, sexually assaulted her twice, stripped her and then stole her cellphone, credit cars and her driver’s licenses.

In court documents released last month, state police said Chism confessed to killing Ritzer, but denied sexually assaulting her.

It is also not at all unusual for murderous personalities to delight in playing word games with the police, making partial admissions, but holding back pertinent details.

 Consider this from the fourth article: 

As I’ve written before in this series and elsewhere, threats of active shooters aren’t the only reason willing teachers should–must–be armed with concealed handguns.  Sociopaths like Chism aren’t common, but they are more common than most imagine. One of the primary benefits of competent training for concealed carry and its daily practice is a heightened sense of situational awareness, an awareness that might have enabled Coleen Ritzer to recognize the danger Phillip Chism represented thus preventing an attack, or when attacked, to be prepared to save her life.  So may it be for other female teachers.

Victim disarmament zones don’t save lives. They cost lives, the lives of those that least deserve to die, the lives that, once lost, diminish us most. If we eventually learn this, Coleen Ritzer will indeed have left behind a worthy legacy.

Philip Chism was eventually sentenced to many years in jail, but not enough, not nearly enough, as I reported in the fifth article of the series: 

This is where I was wrong. We will not be supporting Chism for the rest of his life. It is highly likely, particularly considering that Chism will be incarcerated in Massachusetts, that at the age of 41, he will be freed to murder and rape again. He’s a sexual predator. There is no known treatment, save locking such demons up and throwing away the key. If released—and he will be—he will thank the citizens of Massachusetts in blood.

Perhaps the final chapter of this terribly sad tale comes to us from The Salem News:  

The family of slain Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer has filed a lawsuit over her 2013 rape and murder inside the school — saying that more than anything, they want answers.

‘By and through this action, the plaintiffs (the Ritzer family) seek answers to many questions that have arisen as a result of the horrific events culminating in the death of Colleen on October 22, 2013,’ the suit says.

The suit was filed Wednesday morning in Lawrence Superior Court against the town, the school department, the architectural firm that designed the new wing where Ritzer was killed, and the cleaning company whose workers washed potentially valuable evidence down the drain instead of calling police.

It includes a wrongful death claim against DiNisco Design Partnership, and claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress against DiNisco, the town, the school department, and SJ Services Inc., the cleaning contractor for the school.

‘The plaintiffs also seek compensation to enhance school safety programs and to contribute to the legacy of Colleen Ritzer through third-party nonprofit organizations,’ it continues. ‘The plaintiffs seek no personal benefit by way of personal financial compensation from this lawsuit.’

Instead, the suit seeks answers to a series of questions:

— Why was no one monitoring a supposedly “state-of-the-art” security system and what was its purpose?

— Whether anything has been done to correct issues with the system. (During the trial, a Danvers police officer testified to difficulties locating images from specific cameras because of mis-numbering and an outdated computer).

— What measures have been planned to address other security deficiencies at the school?

— What were the school’s policies with regard to communicating with non-English speaking contractors or other workers and whether the school has addressed those procedures?

— Why was Colleen Ritzer alone in that academic wing that afternoon?

— How Philip Chism, her killer, was able to travel freely throughout the school, grounds and an adjacent wooded area, at times with blood on his clothing and hands, without anyone noticing? [skip]

Chism, 14 at the time, was a new student at the school, having moved from Clarksville, Tennessee to Danvers, and a student in Ritzer’s freshman math class.

He is currently serving a sentence of 40 years to life for the rape, robbery and murder of Ritzer. (Chism is also still awaiting trial in a similar though not fatal attack on a staff member at the Department of Youth Services facility where he was being held prior to trial).

Coleen Ritzer

Coleen Ritzer

The family’s goals seem noble, but even if anyone had been continuously monitoring the “state-of-the-art security system” they could have done nothing to protect or aid Coleen Ritzer as Philip Chism beat and slashed her with a razor knife in a distant wing of the school. Even if they called the police–and it’s highly likely no one would be monitoring such a system after school hours when the attack occurred–they would have arrived long after Ritzer had been raped and killed.

There is only one certain way to protect lives when and where an attack takes place. And it is exactly that kind of liberty that is at stake on Tuesday, November 8.

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