The family of the ninth grade teacher brutally raped and murdered by her student spoke out after his conviction, saying the verdict was "no cause for celebration" and couldn't bring back their beloved daughter and sister.
Colleen Ritzer, 24, was raped, strangled, cut and slashed 16 times with a box cutter in a bathroom at Danvers High School in Massachusetts on October 22, 2013 by her student, Philip Chism, when he was 14 years old. She had asked him to stay after class to talk when she found he was drawing instead of taking notes.
On Tuesday, an Essex Superior Court jury found Chism, now 16, guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery and one count of aggravated rape, related to the attack in the bathroom. He was tried as an adult.
He was found not guilty on another aggravated rape count, which related to an alleged assault in the woods.
Ritzer's family thanked the jury, who took nine hours to come to a decision, for their "fair and careful consideration of the evidence and overwhelming facts presented," but said they knew this was far from over.
"While we are pleased with the verdict, we are aware that the judicial process will continue. Appeals will certainly be filed and, given the state's guidelines for so-called 'juvenile sentencing,' we may be forced to once again publically endure this pain and suffering during parole hearings," the Ritzer family said in a statement.
Despite the convictions, Chism will be eligible for parole in 15 or 25 years under revised law that prevents sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A status conference on December 22 will determine when he will be sentenced.
"This guilty verdict, while the beginning of justice for Colleen, is certainly no cause for celebration as there can never be true justice for the crime committed. There remains a tremendous and painful absence in our lives, one that, sadly, can never be replaced," the Ritzer family said.
All they can do now, they said, is "honor her legacy and be her voice during the continued judicial process. Colleen never gave up, and neither will we. We will not allow her death to define how she is remembered."
They continue to work to ensure their daughter and sister's legacy lives on, having set up a scholarship in Ritzer's name and organizing an annual 5K walk/run to celebrate the life of the dear educator who described herself on social media as a "math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching."
"Find something good in every day :)" Ritzer tweeted before she died, linking to a photo of text that read: "Every day may not be good. But there is something good in every day."