Peggie and Tom Ritzer are the parents of Colleen Ritzer, who was a teacher at Danvers High School in 2013 when she was murdered. Life in prison without the possibility of parole is the harshest possible punishment for a criminal offense in Massachusetts. It is a less severe version of the death penalty that is reserved for people who have been found guilty of first-degree murder. Peggie and Tom Ritzer are speaking out against H.1797, which is titled “An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration.”
In Massachusetts, many of the families of victims are outraged, and they are stepping forward to express their opposition to the House measure. There was a divide within the families of homicide victims in some of the most high-profile murder cases in the state regarding the issue of whether or not the individuals who had slain their loved ones should be eligible for parole.
Highlights of the Case
November 21, 2013— An indictment was handed down in Massachusetts charging a teenager with the murder of a well-respected high school mathematics teacher. The teen is accused of murdering the victim after violently raping her in a series of “unspeakable deeds” during a horrifying episode.
In 2013, a student named Phillip Chism, who was just 14 years old at the time, was apprehended and charged with the murder of Colleen Ritzer, who was his teacher at Danvers High School. In connection with the horrible crime, Chism was charged with murder, aggravated rape, and armed robbery by prosecutors in Essex County, as stated in the previous sentence.
Horrifying Details of the Case
On October 23, Ritzer’s skeletal bones were found in a heavily wooded area around fifty feet away from an athletic field at Danvers High School. The officials claim that her throat had previously been cut with a boxcutter, and she had also been punched in the face.
According to the documents filed in the court, Chism followed Ritzer into a lavatory after he put on gloves, which was caught on camera by a security system at the school. According to the records, he removed her body from the restroom while dragging it in a blue recycling container that was on wheels.
The authorities claim that he then went home to change out of his bloody garments. After eating lunch at Wendy’s, he headed to Hollywood Hits, a movie theatre located not too far from his residence in Danvers, where he shares a house with his mother and two younger sisters. He watched a Woody Allen film there.
On the evening of October 22, reports of Ritzer and Chism’s disappearance were made to authorities. Ritzer’s body was found a short while after Chism was taken into custody at 5:00 a.m. on October 23 and charged with first-degree murder as an adult. Chism was charged with the murder of an adult.
The police and prosecutors have stated that they had no grounds for suspecting Chism until they saw security video of him entering the Danvers High School bathroom shortly after Ritzer on the afternoon of October 22. They also stated that they did not know if Ritzer was alive or dead until they discovered her corpse.
They stated that a significant amount of time had passed since he was seen in Topsfield. According to MacDougall, as community guardians, they would have had no choice but to approach Chism as he walked alone in the middle of the night on a stretch of Route 1 that was dark and narrow near Topsfield.
When Chism was pulled over by the police, they found a knife on him. An affidavit states that a subsequent search of his suitcase turned up a box cutter that had been stained with blood.
When questioned about the origin of the blood, Chism is claimed to have replied, “The girl.” In addition to that, he had Ritzer’s credit cards, driver’s IDs, and a pair of blue-green women’s underwear in his possession. In his initial statement, he asserted that he had found the items in a gas station. In a later statement, he asserts that he removed them from Ritzer’s vehicle. Chism has been taken into custody.
Colleen Ritzer had been placed in a “supine position covered with leaves and debris” in an effort to conceal the location of her body. Her rape was committed using a pointed, sharp implement. Her neck had been slashed open as well. A letter that was scribbled and found next to the body was read by an officer who responded to the scene. It spoke the phrase “I despise you all.”
The green recycles container was around 20 yards away from the deceased person, as seen on the security camera. The bloody gloves that Chism wore in the video were also found strewn about, along with other articles of clothing and other personal effects.
What prompted the investigation by the police?
After unsuccessfully attempting to get in touch with her adolescent son Phillip Chism while he was at Danvers High School, Diana Chism called the authorities in the teeny-tiny town in the northeastern part of Massachusetts where she resides with her three children.
The “ping” function of his cellular phone carrier was then utilized to assist in determining the position of the phone. According to the authorities, it was most recently found in the vicinity of the Hollywood Hits Theater, which is where he had purchased a movie ticket prior to leaving.
Another “ping” position did not produce any fruitful findings. The information on his disappearance was rapidly spread throughout a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and others.
The following day, a Danvers police officer viewed the footage from the high school’s CCTVS security cameras and compiled a minute-by-minute timeline of the events that occurred after the school day on October 22.
The call came in at 6:34 p.m. on October 22, and it was the first in a lengthy run of contacts and an antiquated method of inquiry that assisted in solving a case that rocked the placid New England town of 26,000 residents. A police affidavit describing the murder of Colleen Ritzer included one of the first facts as the frantic phone call made by the victim’s mother.
Inside the Court
In the latter half of 2015, the prosecution closed its case with gruesome evidence from the forensic pathologist who had performed Ritzer’s autopsy.
First presented in open court by MacDougall, the prosecution’s theory of why Chism assaulted Ritzer in a female washroom at the school on October 22, 2013, was explained by MacDougall.
According to Essex Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall, Chism, who was then 14 years old, began the heinous crime in the restroom by strangling, raping, and stabbing his 24-year-old math instructor. However, Chism was stopped when a student entered the restroom, so the crime could not be completed.
Asphyxiation and the 16 knife wounds to the neck, of which three caused damage to major blood arteries, were the two contributing factors that led to the victim’s passing, as determined by the pathologist Anna McDonald.
It is impossible to determine which of the two causes of death came first, but McDonald is of the opinion that asphyxiation was the cause of death. This is due to the fact that the stab wounds to her neck were so serious that strangling her after stabbing her would have been impossible.
McDonald, on the other hand, is of the opinion that she might have been able to survive the choking if she hadn’t been stabbed. In the course of his cross-examination of McDonald, the defense attorney for Chism, John Osler, pointed out to the jury that Ritzer had most likely already passed away by the time Chism rolled her into the woods in a recycling bin. He did this by using evidence from McDonald’s.
Chism was tried as an adult in the court proceeding. If found guilty of murder in the first degree, he faced the possibility of the death penalty. As a result of decisions handed down by both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, it was impossible for him to receive a life sentence without the opportunity to be released as a juvenile.
In the state of Massachusetts, adults who are found guilty of murder in the first degree receive the mandatory punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Do Her Friends and Colleagues Still Remember Colleen Ritzer?
Ritzer was just 24 years old when she was brutally murdered on October 22, 2013, at Danvers High School, where she worked as a math teacher. It is believed that a student at the school committed the act of violence against her.
Her parents, Tom and Peggie, as well as her brother Daniel and sister Laura, who still reside in the Dascomb Roadhouse where she grew up, continue to miss her to this day. Her grandparents also miss her.
Friends and former classmates from Assumption College in Worcester, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 2011, recall Ritzer’s life and accomplishments. These people also include her colleagues and students from Hale Middle School in Stow, Massachusetts, where she taught for one year prior to coming to Danvers High School. Ritzer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2011.
What about Now?
Chism was only a teenager when he committed the crime that led to his conviction; as a result, he was given a sentence of forty years in prison rather than the more severe life sentence without the possibility of parole.
As a direct consequence of this, Chism will be given the opportunity to submit a petition requesting that he be released from jail.
Chism’s sentence will not be modified in any way, regardless of the decision that the legislature makes about H. 1797. On the other hand, Colleen Ritzer’s parents have a strong desire to shield future generations from the challenges that they will inevitably confront. During their very first television interview, they announced that they intended to testify against House Bill 1797.
Rep. Liz Miranda, who represents the Boston area in the state legislature, was the one who initially proposed House Bill 1797. Inmates who have served at least 25 years in prison would be eligible for parole hearings under the proposal, should it be approved. The bill would be retroactive, meaning that it would apply to all convicted individuals housed in the state’s various correctional facilities.
Due to the fact that the perpetrator was a juvenile at the time of the crime, the Ritzer family held out hope that he may have been given a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.
According to what Peggie Ritzer had to say, “We got the idea that the state is still more concerned with the killers than it is with the victims and their families.”
Peggie Ritzer made the following statement to the press: “We haven’t, and we haven’t on purpose; we’ve been waiting for the proper time to do so.” And this is the correct justification,” he said, “They are placing the life of the perpetrator above the life of the victim. In essence, they are claiming that the life of the victim does not have any value. And the value of their lives was important. Our lives matter.”
Colleen Ritzer’s parents believe that it would be up to their other children to come before a parole board and reject any attempt by Colleen’s killer to earn release because of the length of time Chism has spent behind bars. This is because Chism has been incarcerated for so long. The message that Colleen Ritzer’s father wanted to convey to the politicians of Massachusetts who are considering removing Life Without Parole was simple:
“You are incorrect. Please refrain from doing much to the family. Don’t do it. “Think about what you are doing to the relatives of the victims and what they have to go through,” he implored those listening to him.