By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — The death of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer was met with shock and sadness across town as residents, many of whom know the woman’s family, heard the news.
Ritzer, who lived with her family at 5 Dascomb Road, was killed Tuesday night at Danvers High School, where she had been a teacher for just over a year.
A 14-year-old student at the school has been charged with her slaying.
When the chairman of the Andover Board of Selectmen heard the age of the victim, he immediately called one of his daughters, who is also 24.
“My daughter knew her,” said Vispoli. “My heart bleeds for that family.”
His daughter, who now lives in North Carolina, graduated with Ritzer, but hadn’t kept in touch with her. Nonetheless, the murder of the young woman was difficult to fathom.
“It’s an atrocity,” Vispoli said. “Any time a young person is taken like this, as a parent, it doesn’t matter what the age, it hits you. It’s a personal thing. It’s horrific.”
His oldest daughter, who is 28, is also a teacher and lives in Salem, Mass.
“Everybody’s just outraged,” he said. “It’s very sad. I don’t think there’s a better word you can muster.”
He added that because Ritzer and her family have lived in town for so long, “it affects the whole community. There are no words to describe it.”
Andover selectmen observed a moment of silence at the start of their meeting last night.
Former selectman Ted Teichert graduated from Andover High School in 1979 with Ritzer’s mother, Peggy.
“I didn’t know Colleen but I have a daughter who is roughly the same age,” he said. “This is gut-wrenching. I can feel for the family.”
At Andover High School, the news of the death of a former student who became a teacher was met with disbelief.
“Today we mourn the tragic loss of Colleen Ritzer, a teacher at Danvers High School and a 2007 graduate of AHS,” said the statement released by Superintendent Marinel McGrath. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the Ritzer family and the Danvers Public School Community at this difficult time.”
The School Department did not release any other statement. High school Principal Chris Lord referred all comments to McGrath. Attempts to speak with teachers were rebuffed as reporters were asked to leave the high school premises.
The faculty was brought in for an emergency staff meeting immediately after school, according to several students interviewed in downtown Andover yesterday.
One of the students, Sean O’Connor, 17, a junior, said there was no formal announcement over the school’s public address system because there was some kind of technical glitch. He said he expected some kind of statement today.
Another student, a 9th-grader, said her Spanish teacher, Tom Powers, talked about it in class yesterday.
“He said it was a really tough day for all of us,” said the girl, who did not wish to be named. He added, “We are all grieving for the family.”
During the emergency faculty meeting, staff members were advised not to speak with the press and to respect the privacy of the family.
Another student said her health teacher also spoke to the class about the murder.
Teacher’s union President Kerry Costello said, “The administration reacted to the needs of staff and students today, and came together as a community.”
Part of that involved keeping conversations at the school out of the public spotlight and not commenting on them, according to Costello.
“We intend to respect the privacy of the family,” Costello said. “It was just a very hard day.”
Other schools that Ritzer attended issued statements as well.
Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo said in an email that the Worcester campus was in shock.
“The Assumption College campus community mourns the tragic death of Colleen Elizabeth Ritzer, a 2011 alumna who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in psychology with a concentration in secondary education,” he said. “Colleen worked as a math teacher at Danvers High School and will be missed by all those who knew her.
“The Assumption community will keep Colleen’s family members in its thoughts and prayers during this time of great sorrow and loss. We pray that God will give them strength and comfort during these difficult days and commend Colleen to God’s loving presence.”
The president of Salem State University also issued a statement, saying that the Ritzer, in the school’s graduate program, was a “bright and vibrant student ... who was the victim of a violent crime.”
She noted that Ritzer wanted to help children with special needs.
In 2007 when she graduated from Andover High School, Ritzer received a technology award for Excellence in TV production. Joe Spanos, the retired head of the TV production department at the high school, remembered Ritzer well.
“I cried when I heard the sad news this morning,” said Spanos, who still lives in Andover and retired two years ago. “She was a great student. I taught her in my TV production class. She was a teaching assistant.”
He noted, “She always wanted to be a teacher.”
Before working at Danvers, she worked at a middle school in Stow, Mass., also teaching math.