The 24-year-old math teacher who was found slain near Danvers High School Wednesday morning was a young woman with a smile who had always wanted to lead a classroom, a longtime neighbor said.
“She was gentle, with a big smile,’’ said Mary Duffy, who has lived next door to Colleen Ritzer’s family in Andover for more than two decades. “It makes no sense.’’
Duffy, who said her first memory of Ritzer was of Ritzer’s mother carrying the baby girl, said, “She was just always interested in being a math teacher. … It’s very sad.’’
Ritzer was the oldest of Tom and Peggy Ritzer’s three children. A son, Dan, is in college, and a sister, Laura, is at Andover High, Duffy said.
A relative who answered the door at the Ritzer family home said the family was not available for comment.
Duffy praised the close-knit family. “They’re there for each other. They support each other. They encourage each other,’’ she said. “If every family in America were like them, there would be justice and peace.’’
In her 2007 Andover High School yearbook, next to a picture of her as a baby, Ritzer’s family wrote, “You are our shining star, our firstborn. May your future bring you as much joy and happiness as you have brought us. Keep smiling!’’
Colleen Ritzer was a 2011 graduate of Assumption College. The college said she graduated magna cum laude with a mathematics major, a minor in psychology, and a concentration in secondary education. She was earning a master’s degree at Salem State University, the university said.
Ritzer was reported missing Tuesday night and was later found dead behind the high school, according to Essex County prosecutors. A 14-year-old who went to the school is facing charges.
Ritzer had a fun, friendly, upbeat presence on social media, which she used to keep in touch with her students.
In her Twitter bio, Ritzer described herself as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.’’
One student tweeted Wednesday that she had been worried about Ritzer because she didn’t send any tweets Tuesday. In another tweet, the student said, “I hope when I’m older I can be half as nice as Ms. Ritzer was.’’
Ritzer’s Twitter page was decorated for the season. She had pictures of a recent pumpkin-picking excursion and a tweet about making her first-ever apple crisp.
Scrolling through the page, birthday wishes and other exchanges with students could be found mixed in with tweets about math.
“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day,’’ Ritzer tweeted with a photo earlier this month. The tweet had over 150 retweets and was favorited by dozens of her followers.
She recently tweeted good luck to her students for their PSAT exams.
Another student tweeted Wednesday that students should bring a candle to Danvers High School at 8 p.m. tonight for a vigil.
“It is optional, but something we should do,’’ the student tweeted. “RIP Ms. Ritzer.’’
Ritzer’s website says she taught algebra and geometry.
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Ritzer displays a cover photo of the Boston skyline, inscribed with the words “Boston Strong.’’ Inspirational quotes and photos of colorful flowers are posted on the page.
A sophomore who had Ritzer for math said in a telephone interview that she was one of the best teachers she had ever had.
“She was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met,’’ said the student, who is making shirts in honor of Ritzer to wear to this evening’s candlelight vigil.
Another sophomore said Ritzer was “always known as a genuine, nice teacher.’’ She did not have Ritzer as a teacher, but knew her from around the school.
The student said in a telephone interview that she and others will wear pink to the vigil tonight because it was Ritzer’s favorite color.