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Dressed in pink, hundreds mourn Colleen Ritzer, slain Massachusetts teacher

By Alexandra Field and Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 9:16 PM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 400 students were among the estimated 1,000 people at Colleen Ritzer's funeral
  • "Colleen's gift was that of inspiration," her cousin said in a eulogy
  • The math teacher was allegedly killed by one of her students last week

(CNN) -- The church where Colleen Ritzer's family worshiped was filled with mourners for the slain Massachusetts math teacher's funeral Monday.

"You can see the effect she has had and how the community has bonded together to commemorate and celebrate Colleen's life," Ritzer's cousin, Gina McDaniel, said in her eulogy.

About 400 Danvers High School students were among the estimated 1,000 people who gathered to pay final respects to Ritzer, who was killed allegedly by one of her own students -- 14-year-old Philip Chism -- a week earlier.

"Colleen loved her brother and sister very much and always did her best to be a sister, friend, and mentor to them," McDaniel said. "She is the daughter that every parent hopes their children will become once they grow up."

Many mourners wore pink clothing -- Ritzer's favorite color -- and pink flowers decorated the outside of Andover's St. Augustine Church.

"Colleen's gift was that of inspiration," McDaniel said. "In such a short period of time, one person has made a world of difference."

The Rev. Peter G. Gori, in his homily, offered advice on how to approach Ritzer's death.   "Perhaps we should ask not why, or even how she died, but rather why and how did she live," Gori said.

Ritzer's parents, brother and sister followed the hearse to a private burial for family and close friends.

Ritzer, 24, was found dead in woods near the campus where she taught Tuesday morning. Authorities are still investigating the motive for her killing.

Documents filed in a Tennessee court 12 years ago may shed light on Chism's past. The documents showed that Chism's father agreed during a separation from his mother to have restricted time with his son, who was then 2, because of "prior physical and emotional abuse as well as alcohol abuse."

The documents, however, said the parents were attempting to reconcile.

Chism's uncle, Terrence Chism Blaine, told CNN that the boy's parents are now separated and that the father -- a former military man -- now lives in Florida.

Blaine told CNN affiliate WKRN in Nashville, Tennessee, last week that something may have provoked his nephew. "Might could have been upset," Blaine said. "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."

Chism's mother, Diana Chism, released a statement through her son's attorney saying her "heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer."

"Her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear," the statement said. "She is struggling to understand this."

CNN's Sheila Steffen and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.

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