Philip Chism is a convicted murderer and rapist who killed his math teacher Colleen Ritzer at Danvers High School in Massachusetts when he was 14. He is currently serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Philip Chism Early Life and Background
Philip Chism was born on January 21, 1999, in Tennessee. After his parents divorced, he moved to Danvers, Massachusetts, with his mother and two younger sisters in the fall of 2013. He enrolled as a freshman at Danvers High School, where he played soccer and was described as quiet and reserved by his classmates.
The Murder of Colleen Ritzer
On October 22, 2013, Chism brought a box cutter, a mask, gloves, and a change of clothes to school. He attended his math class taught by Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old teacher known for being friendly and helpful to her students. After class, Ritzer asked Chism to stay behind to help him with his homework. She also mentioned his move from Tennessee, which upset him.
According to the school’s security footage, Chism followed Ritzer into the second-floor women’s bathroom at around 2:54 p.m. he attacked her with the box cutter, stabbed her multiple times in the neck, and raped her. He put her body in a recycling bin and dragged it to the woods behind the school. He also stole her credit card, phone, and underwear.
Chism then changed his clothes and left the school. He went to a nearby movie theater and bought a ticket for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine using Ritzer’s credit card. He also went to Wendy’s and ordered food. He was reported missing by his mother later that night.
A police officer discovered Ritzer’s body at around 3:30 a.m. on October 23. Chism was found walking along Route 1 in Topsfield around 12:30 a.m., about nine miles from the school. He had blood on his hands and clothes and Ritzer’s belongings in his backpack.
The Trial and Sentencing
Chism was arrested and charged with murder, aggravated rape, and armed robbery. He was tried as an adult despite being 14 at the time of the crime. His defense team argued that he was suffering from a psychotic disorder and was not criminally responsible for his actions. They claimed that he had auditory hallucinations that told him to kill Ritzer.
The prosecution presented evidence that Chism had planned the murder and acted with deliberate premeditation. They also showed he had searched online for information about rape and murder before the crime. They argued that he knew what he was doing and that he had tried to cover up his tracks.
The trial lasted about two months and involved more than 100 witnesses and exhibits. On December 15, 2015, the jury found Chism guilty of all charges. On February 26, 2016, Judge David Lowy sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years for the murder and 40 years and one day for the rape and robbery charges. The sentences will run concurrently, meaning Chism will be eligible for parole when he is 54.
Philip Chism The Aftermath and Appeals
The murder of Colleen Ritzer shocked and saddened the Danvers community and beyond. She was remembered as a caring, dedicated teacher who loved math and inspired her students. Her family and friends established a scholarship fund in her honor to support future educators.
Chism’s case sparked juvenile justice, mental health, and school safety debates. Some argued that he should have been tried as a juvenile or given a more lenient sentence, considering his age and mental state. Others argued that he deserved the maximum punishment for his brutal crime.
Chism’s lawyers filed an appeal in 2017, challenging his convictions and sentence. They claimed that he was denied a fair trial due to errors made by the judge, the prosecution, and his defense team. They also argued that his sentence was unconstitutional because it violated his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld Chism’s convictions but vacated his sentence for the rape charge. The court ruled that Chism should have been sentenced as a juvenile for that charge because it occurred when he was under 18. The court remanded the case back to the lower court for resentencing on that charge.
As of 2021, Chism remains incarcerated at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. He has not yet been resentenced for the rape charge. He has not expressed any remorse or apology for his crime.