Soft-spoken teen accused of killing Massachusetts high school math teacher
by Jay Lindsay
DANVERS, Mass. (AP) — A well-liked teacher was found slain in woods behind this quiet Massachusetts town's high school, and a 14-year-old boy who was found walking along a state highway overnight was charged with killing her.
Blood found in a second-floor school bathroom helped lead investigators to the body of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School who was reported missing when she didn't come home from work on Tuesday, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said.
“She was a very, very respected, loved teacher,” Blodgett said.
The suspect, Philip Chism, was arraigned on a murder charge Wednesday and ordered held without bail. The teenager, described by classmates as soft-spoken and pleasant, also did not come home from school the day before and was spotted walking along Route 1 in the neighboring town of Topsfield at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials didn't release a cause of death and haven't discussed a motive in the killing.
A court filing said Ritzer and Chism were known to each other from the high school, but it did not elaborate. The arrest was made based on statements by the suspect and corroborating evidence at multiple scenes, investigators said in court documents.
Ritzer's family said they are mourning the death of their “amazing, beautiful daughter and sister.”
“Everyone that knew and loved Colleen knew of her passion for teaching and how she mentored each and every one of her students,” the family said in a statement provided by her uncle Dale Webster.
At his arraignment in adult court in Salem, Chism's defense attorney argued for the proceeding to be closed and her client to be allowed to stay hidden because of his age. The judge denied the request. The lawyer, Denise Regan, declined to comment outside court. No statement had been released from his family by Wednesday evening.
The tall, lanky teenager had moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee before the start of the school year and was a top scorer on the school's junior varsity soccer team, said Kyle Cahill, a junior who also plays soccer. He said the team had been wondering where Chism was when he skipped a team dinner Tuesday night.
“We're all just a family. It just amazes me really,” Cahill said. “He wasn't violent at all. He was really the opposite of aggressive.”
Ritzer had a Twitter account where she gave homework assignments, encouraged students and described herself as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching.”
She was a 2011 graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, a school spokeswoman said Wednesday. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in math, a minor in psychology and a secondary education concentration, according to the college's 2011 commencement program.
One of her former students, Chris Weimert, 17, said she was a warm, welcoming person who would stand outside her classroom and say hello to students she didn't teach. He said she had been at the school for two years.
“She was the nicest teacher anyone could ever have. She always had a warm smile on her face,” he said.
Ryan Kelleher, a senior, said students related to the young teacher, who liked to wear jeans and UGG boots just like the teenagers she taught. Kelleher, who also plays soccer, said the arrest of the soft-spoken Chism didn't make sense to him.
“From what I know about him and seeing him every day, it just doesn't add up that he would do such a thing, unless this was all an act to fool somebody,” the 17-year-old said.
Ritzer lived at home with her 20-year-old brother and her sister, a high school senior. The close-knit family was often outside, barbecuing, spending time together and enjoying each other's company, neighbors said.
Mary Duffy has lived next door to the Ritzers in the suburban neighborhood in Andover since the family moved there more than two decades ago. She had known Colleen Ritzer from the time she was a baby and said the Ritzers' oldest child had just one life ambition: to be a high school math teacher.
“All I ever heard is that she loved her job,” Duffy said.
All public schools in Danvers, about 20 miles north of Boston, were closed Wednesday.
The Boston Red Sox had a moment of silence for Ritzer Wednesday before Game 1 of the World Series.
Hundreds turned out for a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening on the parking lot of the school. Many wore pink, Ritzer's favorite color. They prayed and sang and, at the end of the vigil, they placed their candles along with some stuffed animals in the middle of a ring they have formed for the gathering.
“She supported all of us. We should be there to support her,” said Danvers senior Courtney Arnoldy, 18, who had Ritzer for a teacher.
Ritzer is the second teacher allegedly killed by a student in the U.S. this week. A Sparks, Nev., middle school teacher was allegedly shot by a 12-year-old student on Monday.
Police: Boy killed by deputy had turned toward him with fake rifle
by a Times Staff Writer
A 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun that resembled an assault rifle was fatally shot by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy when the youth turned the barrel in his direction, police said Wednesday.
A single deputy fired at Andy Lopez, killing him on the sidewalk at the edge of an empty lot in Santa Rosa, Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department said during a news conference, according to the Press-Democrat.
“The deputy's mind-set was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot,” Henry said.
Lopez, a Santa Rosa eighth-grader, was walking through a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood carrying a pellet gun that resembled an AK-47 assault rifle when he was spotted about 3 p.m. Tuesday by two deputies on routine patrol, Henry said.
The teen had his back to the two deputies, said Henry, whose department is investigating the shooting.
They stopped, took cover behind the doors of their patrol car and ordered him to drop the weapon, Henry said.
Lopez was 20 to 30 feet away, he said, adding the deputies did not realize he was a boy.
The deputy, a law enforcement veteran, believed the AK-47-styled pellet gun “was an authentic weapon,” Henry said.
“He has quite a bit of experience with this kind of weapon. He's aware of the kind of damage these kinds of weapons can do,” Henry said.
He also was aware such a weapon can fire ammunition that “can penetrate his body armor, can penetrate the metal of his vehicle, and also the sides of houses and buildings in the area,” Henry said, according to the newspaper.
Earlier Wednesday, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said in a statement that the shooting was a “tragedy” and that he would do everything he could to ensure the investigation was thorough and transparent.
“As a father of two boys about this age, I can't begin to imagine the grief this family is going through,” he said.
Deputies also found a plastic handgun in the boy's waistband, said sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary. The deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard after a shooting, he said.
List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States, 2013
Skakel Gets New Trial in '75 Killing of Teenager in Connecticut
by JAMES BARRON
A Connecticut judge on Wednesday ordered a new trial for Michael C. Skakel , a nephew of Ethel Kennedy who was convicted in 2002 of bludgeoning a neighbor with a golf club in 1975, saying his original lawyer had not represented him effectively.
The decision was another turn in a high-profile case that drew television crews and celebrity crime writers like Dominick Dunne. Judge Thomas A. Bishop set aside the murder conviction of Mr. Skakel, 53, who was sentenced to 20 years to life for killing the neighbor, Martha Moxley, when they were both teenagers in Greenwich.
The 136-page decision amounted to a review of the trial and an attack on the way Michael Sherman, the lawyer who represented Mr. Skakel before he was convicted, had handled his defense.
Judge Bishop said Mr. Sherman had been “in a myriad of ways ineffective” as Mr. Skakel's lawyer.
“The defense of a serious felony prosecution requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense” that is capably executed, the judge wrote. “Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense. As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability.”
Mr. Skakel's current lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, said he was thrilled with the decision. “Pleased is an understatement,” he said, adding that he would file a motion on Thursday to have Mr. Skakel freed on bail.
Mr. Skakel has served 11 years of his sentence. Last year, a parole board rejected his application to be released.
The state's attorney handling the case, John C. Smriga, told The Associated Press that prosecutors would appeal Judge Bishop's ruling.
Calls to Mr. Sherman on Wednesday were not returned. He has defended his representation of Mr. Skakel and told The Hartford Courant in April that he hoped Judge Bishop would rule in Mr. Skakel's favor. “I don't have mixed emotions about this,” Mr. Sherman said then. “I want him out of jail. That's the priority.”
The victim's brother, John Moxley, said he found the decision frustrating, coming after previous appeals had been rejected.
“It's just amazing that you have all these appeals, the appellate courts, all these different very sophisticated judges, and then, you know, a judge in a sleepy little town way upstate in Connecticut completely upsets the apple cart,” he said. “But we'll get through this. There's no question that Michael's guilty.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and cousin of Mr. Skakel's who helped develop new evidence after Mr. Skakel was convicted, said he was happy with the decision. “A first-year law student from any of my classes would have done a better job than Mickey Sherman, who's a very likable guy but was clearly interested — his ambition was to be a television lawyer and he thought this trial was going to be his ticket to that career,” he said. “He told a bar association meeting that he intended to have a lot of fun at that trial.”
“Michael had an airtight alibi and five witnesses,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Anybody who couldn't win that case should not be admitted to the bar.”
In seeking a new trial, Mr. Skakel and his lawyers claimed that Mr. Sherman failed to provide adequate representation. Among other things, Mr. Skakel accused Mr. Sherman of failing to pursue an alibi defense; failing to rebut the testimony of two schoolmates who maintained that Mr. Skakel had admitted to the murder; and failing to prepare an effective closing argument, a lapse Judge Bishop called “both inadequate and improper.”
“His argument was, in the main, an unfocused running commentary on the state's evidence,” the judge wrote, adding that Mr. Sherman had failed to mention the notion of reasonable doubt. “Attorney Sherman's argument did not provide the jury with any template for decision making,” the judge noted.
The judge said that Mr. Sherman had billed more than $1.2 million for representing Mr. Skakel. Mr. Sherman pleaded guilty in 2010 to failing to pay two years' worth of federal income taxes totaling more than $420,000 and served a year and a day in a minimum-security prison camp in upstate New York.
Judge Bishop also faulted Mr. Sherman's handling of the jury selection phase of Mr. Skakel's trial. The judge said that Mr. Sherman “unreasonably chose a juror who was not simply a police officer but one who was friendly with Detective Lunney, a lead investigator for the Greenwich police and a principal state's witness.”
Mr. Skakel was not arrested until he was in his late 30s, a quarter of a century after the murder. He was convicted after a three-week trial that brought a number of unpleasant details to light, including his drinking and his drug use — and his claim, on the night of the murder, that he had climbed a tree and masturbated while trying to look into Ms. Moxley's bedroom.
She was struck with a 6-iron from a set that had belonged to Mr. Skakel's mother. She was hit with so much force that the head of the club broke apart. Mr. Sherman had argued that Mr. Skakel was miles away, at a cousin's home, watching “Monty Python's Flying Circus” on television.
Police say 11-year-old brought 400 rounds of ammo to school
by Stephanie Haven
Police in Vancouver, Wash., arrested an 11-year-old boy on suspicion of attempted murder after finding a handgun, 400 rounds of ammunition and knives at his school, reports said.
The Columbian and CNN reported that the boy, who has not been named but is a student at Frontier Middle School, forced the school to be put into lockdown on Wednesday for about two hours.
There were no reports of injuries and it was not clear who the alleged targets were.
Parents weren't notified of the incident until students brought a note home, The Columbian reported.
The arrest follows a Nevada middle school shooting earlier this week in which the adolescent gunman killed himself and a teacher. A 14-year-old in Boston was also arrested this week after police found a teacher dead near the young teen's school.