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Friends, relatives bewildered by arrest of 'storybook kid' in teacher slaying

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 6:32 PM EDT, Thu October 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "He's 14, he's growing up still," Chism's uncle says
  • "It doesn't make any sense," says classmate Riley Doyle
  • "He's a good kid," says schoolmate
  • "He just seemed normal," says a girl in his English class

(CNN) -- To friends and relatives of the suspect in the Tuesday killing of a high school math teacher in Danvers, Massachusetts, the arrest of the teen they know is as shocking as the crime itself.

Before he moved to Massachusetts last spring, Philip Chism had impressed the people he knew in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he graduated last spring from Rossview Middle School. "Great soccer player -- probably the main reason we won the league championship last year," Jando Herrera told CNN affiliate WZTV about Chism, whom he coached in soccer for two seasons.

"I'm sure any of his teammates would say the same thing: that he was just the nicest kid on the team, probably. ... It's completely out of character; it's not something that I would ever imagine Philip ever, you know, doing or anything like that ... always the most respectful kid that I've, you know, had around -- 'yes sir, no sir.' "

After graduating from middle school, Chism moved from Tennessee to Danvers, where he appeared to provoke little concern among his classmates or others in the town of 26,000 people in a suburb north of Boston.

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Nicole White said she never heard her classmate in history class at Danvers High School discuss their math teacher, 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer. "He never talked about her," she said. "Nothing ever happened. So it came to a shock to all of us, I think."

White said she saw nothing out of place during her collaboration with Chism on a history assignment. "He was always a really, really quiet kid, but he was nice," she told CNN. "I saw no problems at all."

"He's quiet, just kept to himself -- probably because he's new to the society but, I mean, he's a good kid," said Kyle Cahill, a junior at the school.

A member of Chism's English class, Ariana Edwards, said Chism had friends, but chose them carefully. "He wasn't, like, too friendly though," she said. "He, like, only had certain friends. He wasn't, like, outgoing to everyone ... in classes he would only talk to, like, a select few people. And he was new too, so, like, he didn't have, like, the, like, amount of friends as everyone else."

Still, she said, he "seemed quiet and reserved, but he just seemed normal."

Chism didn't drink or do drugs, and he came from a good family, one of his friends said. He described Chism as a good athlete who was shy at first but eventually warmed up to people, adding that he hadn't been acting strangely lately.

Teacher slayings hurt view of schools as safe havens

This friend and others got their first hint that something had gone awry on Tuesday, when Chism didn't show up for soccer practice. The team searched for him after seeing texts that he was missing.

"We didn't know whether he was like kidnapped or if he was hurt somewhere, so we went around looking for him because we cared about him," said a teammate. "Obviously, he was on the team and we liked him."

As they and police were looking for him -- and after Ritzer was killed -- Chism went to the movies, a source with knowledge of the investigation said.

A few hours later, the lanky young man with closely cut hair was charged with murder.

Chism's uncle, who still lives in Clarksville, told CNN affiliate WKRN in Nashville that something may have provoked his nephew. "Might could have been upset," Terrence Chism Blaine said Wednesday. "You know -- teenagers go through that. He's 14, he's growing up still. That's the only thing that I can imagine. I can't imagine anything else because he's like a storybook kid -- a perfect family."

In a telephone interview with CNN, Blaine said the boy's parents are separated and that the father -- a former military man -- now lives in Florida.

Asked if the suspect had had behavioral issues, he said, "No, I don't believe so."

"I think it's insane," classmate Andre Poland told CNN affiliate WCVB in Boston. "I'm completely shocked. I don't think Philip would be the type of person to do this."

Classmate Riley Doyle said she was searching for answers. "I just want to know why anyone would do that -- especially to someone who's such a nice and kind and good-hearted person," she told CNN. "It doesn't make any sense. Just why?"

Herrera said he was reserving judgment about the former player on his soccer team. "I want to see what else there is, you know," he said. "I want the whole story to kind of come out before people really cast a lot of judgment on the kid."

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