Cops Hope DNA Samples Will Lead to Suspect in Killing, Sex Assault of NYC Runner: Source

Police say they have no real leads in the case, and are asking for the public's help

What to Know

  • The 30-year-old woman normally ran with her father in the afternoons, but he didn't accompany her this time
  • Her body was found face down in a marsh several hours after she was reported missing
  • The medical examiner's office ruled she died in a homicide.

Investigators are working with DNA samples that may lead to a suspect in the strangulation of a 30-year-old runner whose body was found in a Queens marsh hours after she was reported missing, a law enforcement source says. 

The source says it's too soon to know if the samples may reveal any definitive connection in the killing and sexual assault of Karina Vetrano, and police continue to pursue multiple avenues of investigation.

On Friday afternoon, investigators found Vetrano's missing sneaker and earbud in the weeds near the running path, sources said, alongside a secluded, overgrown marsh at the edge of Jamaica Bay. They'll test the items for DNA. 

Meanwhile, family and friends were mourning Vetrano at a wake at the Romanelli Funeral Home Friday, ahead of a funeral mass and burial Saturday at St. Helen's Church in Howard Beach. 

Vetrano was "very nice to talk to, very gentle, very sweet," said Marge Rosina, a family friend. 

"It's just devastating. This is someone who always loved life," said a friend of Vetrano who only gave her name as Shaina. Always laughing, having a good time. This wasn't supposed to happen to her. Wasn't something that happens to someone like her." 

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Thursday that the department believes there is a "severe community threat" after the killing of Vetrano, who left her Howard Beach home to run near Gateway National Park Tuesday afternoon and never came home. The department is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Boyce, who previously said the circumstances of the killing were "extraordinarily rare," confirmed that Vetrano had been sexually assaulted in the attack, but that she "put up a ferocious fight right until the end."

"She was beaten quite severely which suggests she put up a good fight," he said. 

Law enforcement sources say nothing in Vetrano's personal life raises a red flag. Investigators are exploring the idea she was attacked by a stranger and are questioning local sex offenders, a routine step. A public sex offender registry shows nine level-three offenders in the neighborhood.

Boyce also said that Vetrano sent a text to a friend during the run, but it's not clear what the message was about. 

Vetrano normally ran with her father at the time she left Tuesday, but he didn't accompany her that day, police have said. When Vetrano didn't return, he called 911 to report her missing and a search was organized.

Hours later, Vetrano's body was discovered in a marsh near the Belt Parkway bike path. Boyce said pings from her cellphone led cops to the weedy area near 161st Avenue and 78th Street, where Vetrano was found face down, her hands balled up, clutching the weeds surrounding her.

The woman's father, a retired firefighter, was among the first to find her body.

Family friend Joanne Rosina, who attended the wake with her mother Marge, said Friday the father "seems to be holding up." 

"I said to him, 'Phil, for the first time, I don't know what to say," Rosina told NBC 4 New York. "He says, 'You can't say anything.'"

First responders, like the firefighters from FDNY's 270 squad, paid respects at the wake. Neighbors, meanwhile, have pinned white ribbons to telephone poles. 

Parks officials say they are looking into increasing patrols in light of Vetrano's death. Currently, a two-person patrol watches over all the federal parkland in Queens and Brooklyn. Officials said they are also cutting the weeds.

"You never know what's in those weeds," said one resident. "I would say it's dangerous."

The young woman worked as a caterer for RV Rooftop at Vetro, which said in an Instagram post it would be closed Wednesday to hold a candlelight vigil in remembrance. She was a world traveler and aspiring writer, and on her blog, she wrote about her life: "It's chaotic and unpredictable, but I do believe that on some days, it's quite beautiful, in all its poetic little tragedies." 

No arrests have been made in the case, and authorities are reviewing digital evidence from the park.

Anyone with information about Vetrano's death should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.

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