DANVERS — Fourteen-year-old Philip Chism was a quiet kid, a soccer player and a skateboarder, and a newcomer to town who had moved here over the summer from Tennessee. But not much else is known still about the student accused of killing his teacher, Colleen Ritzer.
Yesterday, nobody answered a knock on the door at Chism’s home on Riverside Street as a small dog barked inside. A vehicle with a Maine license plate sat in the driveway.
Several neighbors said the family moved in August to the white house at the water’s edge in Danversport, which they said had long been the home of Chism’s mother’s family. Chism lived there with his mother and two younger sisters, according to neighbors.
In his few months in town, Chism had made a mark as a top player on the JV soccer team. Several teammates called him smart and friendly. But even the soccer players said they didn’t know him well.
“It’s a big puzzle, honestly,” said Kyle Cahill, 16, a junior.
Chism was also a skateboarder, another student said.
“My friend skated with him the other day,” said Chris Davis, 16, a junior.
Rania Rhaddaoui, a classmate at Danvers High, said Chism was quiet, and she never saw him raise his hand in math class. She said they were also in the same history class, where he told classmates he spoke three languages: English, Portuguese and Japanese.
If he was troubled, it wasn’t readily apparent to those at school.
Jean McCartin, a Danvers School Committee member, said the school has extensive programs to help ease the transition for new students like Chism. She said there was no information about Chism that would have raised any red flags.
“He just presented himself to us like any other student would,” McCartin said. “And that’s what I think is so hard for the administration right now. You know, their hearts are breaking because they just didn’t know he was in need, if he was in need. ... No one knows why he would have behaved in this way and done such a terrible thing.”
A school official in Clarksville, Tenn., a city of about 140,000 about 50 miles northwest of Nashville, said Chism attended Rossview Middle School for three years and graduated eighth grade last May. He attended school in Boca Raton, Fla., in fifth grade, and Burt Elementary School in Clarksville in fourth grade, said Elsie Shelton, chief communications officer for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System.
Mark Nolan coached Chism on a travel soccer team in Clarksville for two years. The team accepted players on a try-out basis only and traveled around the Nashville area, and sometimes as far away as Louisville and Lexington, Ky., to compete against other clubs and in tournaments. He said Chism did not stand out beyond being a talented young player in love with the Beautiful Game.
“He didn’t seem any different than the other kids, maybe a little more quiet. But it’s not that he didn’t talk,” said Nolan, who is president of the Clarksville Fusion travel soccer club and a local attorney. “He wasn’t the most aggressive, wasn’t the fastest. He was on the team and a good player.”
He said Chism was very passionate about the game, which he dove into out of admiration for a relative who played soccer professionally in Brazil. “He was there more than just to kick a ball,” Nolan said. “Some of the kids were there because mom and dad made them, but not him.”
Chism played defense and midfield at that time, Nolan said. However, he evolved into a capable striker by the time he moved to Danvers, teammates here said. He joined the Danvers High junior varsity soccer team and distinguished himself as a leading scorer.
Nolan had met both of Chism’s parents, and recalled the boy’s father as a very tall Army man. Fort Campbell, an Army base, straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky border near Clarksville. His mother dropped him off at practice most times because of his father’s obligations to the Army, Nolan recalled.
Clarksville’s potential connection to Ritzer’s murder more than 1,100 miles away shocked residents. “Everyone I’ve talked to has been surprised,” said Joel Wallace, a Clarksville attorney and city councilor. “I haven’t talked to anyone who knew him, but anytime there’s news like this tied to Clarksville, it generally takes people by surprise.”
“Clarksville is a growing city, but has retained the small-town feel,” he said. “Anytime something like this happens, it’s a shock.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.