Details About 14-Year-Old Charged With Murdering Math Teacher Are Chilling

Colleen RitzerThe details of the shocking murder of popular Danvers, Massachusetts math teacher Colleen Ritzer just keep on coming, and they're as horrible as you'd expect. So horrible that it's starting to become clear why police would charge 14-year-old suspect Philip Chism with first degree murder ... as an adult.

I confess at first I was a little shocked. He's 14! He's just a kid! Can a child really answer charges of this magnitude as an adult?

But then came the details of the crime. Warning, they're not easy to stomach.


Students on Chism's soccer team reported the athlete running away from their practice field on Tuesday night, saying he had something he needed to take care of -- indicating pre-meditation. Chism skipped practice and a team dinner that night, despite being one of the team's leading scorers. 

A source told MyFoxBoston that Chism confessed, allegedly telling cops that he followed the teacher into the women's bathroom and slashed her throat.

According to law enforcement, Ritzer was stabbed and cut with a box cutter -- reportedly stolen from the school art room -- on Tuesday night. Blood was found in a school bathroom where it's believed the attack happened, but the math teacher's body was found in the woods near the high school. Cops now say surveillance footage from the school shows Chism wheeling a recycling bin out of the school, although they won't comment on whether Ritzer was inside.

The teen was seen later that evening, buying a ticket to see the Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine.

These details are, of course, incomplete. Police are still putting together the case against the teenager.

But if true, they paint a picture not of an innocent kid acting out in frustration, not of a kid who didn't know what he was doing was wrong or couldn't foresee the effect of his actions, but of someone calculating, someone who planned things out and then tried to cover their tracks.

Doesn't sound like an innocent kid, does it?

Cases like this one in Danvers shake Americans to our very core because they go against what it is we think of childhood. We are shocked by the charges, but we're shocked too by the details of the crime. We are forced to re-evaluate everything we think about kids and what kids are truly capable of doing.

This is not as uncommon as we'd like to think. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, some 3,000 American kids have been sentenced to life in adult prisons for adult crimes. Until 2005, there were even children being put to death for adult crimes (something the Supreme Court put an end to, thank goodness).

How do we know when it's appropriate? How do we separate the kids who screw up from the kids who are hardcore criminals who need to be dealt with as such?

Sadly, there is no easy answer.

Some would argue that kids should never be charged as adults, that cases like that against Philip Chism should remain in juvenile court, regardless of the evidence police, regardless of the heinous nature of the murder of Colleen Ritzer.

The evidence in this case, of course, is what matters. We need to see more to really tell what this kid was up to.

But I think we've all seen kids who scare us, kids who, even as young children, we can tell are destined to go nowhere good. I'm not talking about your garden variety juvenile delinquent who may well turn into Joe Volunteer one day with two kids, a wife, and a picket fence. I mean the children who turn into violent criminals as adults, who started out strangling puppies and worked their way on up.

Should the adult case against Philip Chism proceed? Should a 14-year-old be sitting in adult court right now?

From the sounds of it so far, yes, absolutely. But we must remember that whether he's charged as an adult or as a juvenile, he still deserves his day in court. He is still innocent until proven guilty.

Should kids be tried as adults? When is it OK?


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