ANDOVER, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts high school teacher allegedly killed by a student last week was a bright light to her family and devoted to making a difference by "focusing on the adults of our future," a relative said Monday at her funeral.
Hundreds of mourners, including 12 busloads of students, packed Colleen Ritzer's hometown church, many wearing her favorite color, pink.
Ritzer, 24, who taught math at Danvers High School, was killed after dismissal last Tuesday, police said. Blood was found in a school bathroom and her body was later discovered in woods behind the school. Philip Chism, 14, has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge.
St. Augustine Church in Andover was filled to capacity for her funeral Mass. About 400 students crowded into the church's lower level as sound from the service was piped in from the sanctuary.
In his homily, the Rev. Peter Gori touched on the shared grief.
"From deep within each of us comes the same cry, 'This should not happen!' Not to Colleen. Not to anyone," he said.
Mourners donned pink ribbons or scarves and bouquets including pink flowers were placed on the steps of the church. Pink was Ritzer's favorite color, friends said.
Ritzer's cousin Gina McDaniel said Ritzer loved cruising with friends, going to the beach or cheering school teams.
Ritzer tried to find something good in every day and even kept what she called a memory jar, which contained remembrances of good times, McDaniel said.
"She made people feel loved, comforted and optimistic. Colleen's grace made her life fulfilling," said McDaniel said in a eulogy prepared for delivery at the service. "In such a short period of time, one person has made a world of difference."
Ritzer's passion was teaching, and her unabashed love for math — she'd exclaim, "Yay math! Yay proofs!" — converted even the unenthusiastic, said McDaniel. Her cousin, she said, "wanted to make this world a better place by focusing on the adults of our future."
Teachers from Danvers and Andover lined the steps of St. Augustine as Ritzer's coffin arrived at the church for the private funeral.