ANDOVER — More than 1,000 people filled St. Augustine Church on Essex Street this morning for the funeral Mass of Colleen Ritzer, murdered last week, allegedly by one of her students at Danvers High School.
Ritzer, 24, who graduated from Andover High School in 2007, was then laid to rest at the town-owned Spring Grove Cemetery off Abbott Street.
During the nearly two-hour service, attended by friends, family, colleagues and students from Danvers, as well as former classmates and teachers from Andover schools, Ritzer was remembered for her infectious personality and upbeat, optimistic outlook on life.
"Colleen's gift was that of inspiration," said Gina McDaniel, one of Ritzer's cousins, who read her Words of Remembrance to more than 500 people in the chapel and another 500, mostly Danvers High School students and faculty, gathered in the lower level of the church. "She possessed an energetic intensity that is rarely seen."
In his homily, Rev. Peter Gori, the pastor of St. Augustine, tried to console the grief-stricken crowd.
"In the face of great tragedy, we are shocked and horrified," he said. "We are naturally inclined to ask, 'Why?' It is immensely frustrating when, like now, there is no satisfactory answer to that question."
Police said Ritzer was killed by 14-year-old Phillip Chism, whom she had asked to stay after school last Tuesday afternoon. He allegedly followed her into the bathroom where he stabbed and killed her. He was arrested and charged Wednesday with first-degree murder and is being held without bail.
But today was a day to remember her "contagious smile and bright, loving personality," which McDaniel called the "common theme" running through the past several days.
As the bell tolled from the tower of St. Augustine, hundreds of people poured out of the chapel's front and side entrances, standing respectfully on the sidewalk, waiting and watching as the pallbearers carried the casket to the hearse waiting out front.
A police motorcycle unit from the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC, then escorted the funeral procession to the cemetery, where Ritzer was buried in a private ceremony.