Karina Vetrano was found beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death in early August

By Chris Harris
February 08, 2017 04:25 PM
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For months, it seemed as though Karina Vetrano’s killing might never be solved.

Detectives investigating her homicide last August chased down hundreds of leads but got nowhere fast. That all changed Saturday when police arrested 20-year-old Chanel Lewis, a Brooklyn man, on murder charges.

The day she was killed, about two hours after she went out for a jog, the 30-year-old was found beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death in a park near her neighborhood of Howard Beach, Queens.

Since Lewis was charged with the killing, his family members have insisted he’s not capable of such malice.

Here are five things you need to know about the case.

Karina Vetrano
Credit: Karina Vetrano/Instagram

1. Karina Vetrano’s Remains Were Found By Her Own Father

After she failed to return from her daily run, Vetrano’s father, Philip Vetrano, grabbed his neighbor — a New York police officer — and the two set out searching for her. Soon after, Philip found Karina’s battered body laying face-down in a swath of tall grass.

Her father had asked her to avoid the very area where she was found murdered, noting the park where she spent the final moments of her life attracted drifters and homeless people. Her last words to him as she headed out the door were, “It’s OK, Daddy, I’ll be all right.”

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During a news conference days after her death, Philip told reporters he knew something was terribly wrong when, after Vetrano didn’t return from her jog, he and his wife couldn’t reach her by phone. It was rare that Vetrano would go running by herself; normally, her father would run with her. But he didn’t the night she died because he was recovering from a back injury.

2. Hundreds Attended Vetrano’s Funeral

An estimated 400 mourners turned out for Vetrano’s funeral on August 6, 2016, including several members of the New York City Fire Department.

“She was so full of life,” Philip Vetrano said in his eulogy. “She lived every day as if it were her last, getting every second of living in her every minute … She did more in those short 30 years than 10 people do in a lifetime. We weren’t just a father and daughter, we were like one and the same.”

At the funeral, Vetrano’s mother read from a poem she had written to her daughter 13 years earlier. When people applauded, she told them, “Don’t stand up and clap for me. Stand up and clap for Karina.”

Chanel Lewis
Chanel Lewis
| Credit: James Keivom James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images

3. Vetrano Put Up A ‘Ferocious’ Fight For Her Life

Detectives have said Vetrano didn’t go down without a fight. They believe she clawed at her alleged attacker, fighting him with everything she could muster. She also bit her killer with such force her teeth cracked.

Robert Boyce, the NYPD’s Chief of Detectives, said soon after her killing that Vetrano put up a “ferocious fight.” Investigators found one of her shoes and an an ear bud not far from her body, as well as a used condom.

When she was found, Vetrano’s underwear had been pulled down and her body was covered in bruises, scratches and cuts.

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4. Police Say Vetrano Was Attacked At Random

An NYPD source tells PEOPLE Vetrano was killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not specifically targeted by her alleged assailant. Detectives have said from the outset that Vetrano was victimized at random.

Lewis, who has only been charged with Vetrano’s murder and not her sexual assault, has allegedly expressed a hatred for women to police, who have since learned he had allegedly threatened to hurt female students at his high school with a knife, a source says.

The source adds that investigators do not know what sparked Lewis’ apparent misogyny, but he allegedly told investigators he couldn’t stop himself from attacking Vetrano as she jogged passed him.

Police say that hospital records from early August also confirm that around the time Vetrano was killed, Lewis was treated for an injury to one of his hands. (He told doctors he had been mugged by three men.)

Image
Philip and Karina Vetrano
| Credit: Phil Vetrano

5. DNA Evidence Helped Lead Police to Vetrano’s Alleged Killer

Police got an assist in their investigation from Vetrano herself: Forensic specialists recovered DNA evidence of the alleged killer from beneath her fingernails, apparently during the alleged confrontation with him.

Authorities began focusing on Lewis after a search of recently-issued summonses showed he was near the crime scene just days before the murder. Officers tracked him to his mother’s home, where Lewis willingly submitted to a cheek swab.

Once it was clear his DNA matched DNA from the crime scene, Lewis was taken into custody, and has allegedly confessed to the murder.