As an academic of criminal psychology and someone who purposefully tries to put herself in the minds of violent individuals when writing novels, I am exposed to many stories that make you wonder how a person can make choices so beyond the boundaries of the basic connections of humanity. How can a mind be so twisted to cause brutal harm to others? What happened and when to cause such behavior? What warning signs did we miss? When the act of violence is done by a child, those questions are even more heartbreaking.
By now you probably have seen the awful story of a young high school teacher in Massachusetts, Colleen Ritzer, who allegedly was killed by one of her own students, a boy only fourteen years old. We know his name – Philip Chism – as he is being charged as an adult for the brutal attack.
It appears now that Chism allegedly killed his teacher with a box cutter and then dumped her body in the woods near the school. Then, after taking a person’s life at close range with his own hands, this boy changed his clothes, ate some fast food and went to the movies.
The details of this crime are just starting to come to light, so we may soon have some explanation from Chism as to why he decided to kill his math teacher, a woman who was described as being beloved by students and friends. Whatever his reasoning may be, I imagine it still won’t make sense to us.
For now, Chism sits in a jail cell without bond as he faces murder charges while those who know him share their shock that such a well-behaved and seemingly “normal” student athlete could be capable of such a crime.
As the Boston Red Sox started their quest for another championship with Game One of the World Series at Fenway Park, the community of baseball fans took part in a moment of silence for the slain teacher. My thoughts, too, are with this young woman’s family as they certainly struggle to make any sense of what appears to have no sense to it at all.
How do you think the criminal justice system should handle this case?