Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. These seemingly wonderful places to live and go to school are now names associated with horrendous acts of violence – so much so that we no longer think of them as towns or schools, but as crime scenes. The memories of what happened there can never be washed away.
All of these school tragedies upset me, just as they upset most people in our nation. But they were always far away; I knew in my head that it could happen anywhere, but I never truly believed it would happen just anywhere – I never thought it would happen in my “where.”
Until it did.
On October 22, a 14-year-old student brutally murdered his 24-year-old teacher at Danvers High School. My town. My high school.
I didn’t know Colleen Ritzer, but I wept for her; for the pain she went through and the confusion she must have felt. I wept for her family, and I wept for the children of the town where I had a picturesque childhood, who are forever changed.
This horrific event is confusing and unimaginable. This is something that happens on a TV crime drama, not at your own high school. The crime occurred in the second floor bathroom, where I was hundreds of times – that was the “good” bathroom, the one that wasn’t full of smoke or too hot or too cold. She was discarded in the woods right behind the school, onto the trail I ran a hundred times. It isn't just close to home – it is home. When horror occurs in your own backyard, it shakes you to your core; it affects you and changes you.
The people of Danvers are hurt, confused, shocked and angry. We’re hurt because when we grew up Danvers was a town where you didn’t even lock your doors; we had very little fear for our safety, especially when we were at school. We’re confused, shocked and angry because, well, this isn’t supposed to happen here.
|Photo from the Candle Light Vigil held for Colleen Ritzer at Danvers High School, Oct. 23. Hundreds showed up to honor and remember the slain math teacher.|
But I think that’s the scariest part of all of this; in Columbine, Blacksburg and Newtown before us, no one thought something so awful would ever happen in their town. Then it does, and you're forever scarred.
Just as those places were, our town and everyone in it is forever changed. There is a wound that will eventually scab over and heal, but it will leave behind a scar that never completely goes away. We’ll always be “the town where the teacher was murdered.”
Colleen Ritzer was known for her infectious smile, her friendly nature and her love of math. She was the epitome of what a young teacher should be - excited to teach. On her Twitter feed, she wrote math jokes, encouraging messages and inspirational quotes. She described herself as a "Math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching."
|An inspirational quote posted by Ritzer on her Twitter feed|
A beloved teacher, gone in such a gruesome way, before she really had a chance to live.
Every time I drive by my high school, my first thought won’t be the great memories I amassed there of my lifelong friends and the teachers who affected my life in the way I’m sure Ms. Ritzer affected lives, but what happened Oct. 22, 2013. Danvers High School is no longer where I had track meets, soccer games or band practice – it will forever be where THIS happened. In the aftermath of such a horrendous crime, we’re left to pick up the pieces and try to go on.
It seems like they caught the assailant, and he’ll be locked away. But the damage caused by what he did … well, that will never go away.
No one will ever look at Danvers High School the same. One life was taken; another thrown away when a teenager gave into his barbaric impulses. The innocence of thousands of students around the community was shattered. Those of us who aren’t students anymore are left with a little more fear than we had a few days ago. I, for one, feel a little less safe in every day life than I did before this happened; before I learned what people are capable of.
But I know my town; Danvers is full of good, hard-working people and it will overcome this tragedy. The community will grieve together and band together to heal. We are forever changed, forever scarred, but we will heal – but we won't forget. We will be strong to honor Colleen Ritzer.